Franju’s film is not, despite first appearances, just a film about insanity; it is also a film about being twenty-five, the age of Jean-Pierre Mocky’s protagonist and that age at which one is perhaps finally forced to put aside the things of youth and enter fully into the asylum that is contemporary adult society with its irrational rationality, its padded and constricting walls, its tightly scheduled regimentation and its promised course of treatment (renamed advancement in these circles).
Jean-Pierre Mocky’s twenty-five year old, seeing a corrupt and corrupted past behind him and a future ahead of him which is marked only by the promise of one form of confinement or another, burns his father’s legal papers as a final act of desperate defiance and despair. Neither the hip fantasia of the nightclub shaped like a boat or the bourgeois stuffiness of his father’s study represent a place where he can now belong, and the feeling of adrifteness, alienation is already overpowering. The act of defiance, of course, leads him only to the asylum anyway. He has ignored the will o’the wisp lights which seemed to be calling to him from the depths of the forest earlier; if he had followed them he may have found an escape through some alternative hidden path or, more likely, an early death (this being the sort of trick those sorts of lights like to play). Instead the malcontent is placed with all the other malcontents.
La Tete contre les Murs is not a masterpiece. It is somewhat flat in comparison to the full malice-in-wonderlands of Judex and especially Eyes Without a Face, and it is not as great an asylum picture as Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor. But there is a worthwhile perspective on youth to be found in this film from a man who had come to direct this first feature relatively late in life.