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The Snake Pit

The Snake Pit(1948)

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Virginia Stuart Cunningham, a twenty-four-year-old patient at Juniper Hill State Hospital, suffers from extreme anxiety, confusion and delusion. Although she knows that she is married, Virginia insists she has no husband and fails to recognize her husband Robert when he visits. Concerned about Virginia's condition, Mark Kik, her progressive, kindly doctor, questions Robert about her past. Robert admits that Virginia spoke little about her family but recalls the first time they met: In Chicago, Robert, a publishing house clerk, encounters aspiring author Virginia when she comes to collect her rejected manuscript. Robert and Virginia take an immediate liking to each other and begin dating. During one date in May, however, Virginia becomes panicked and bolts from Robert without explanation. Robert accepts a job in New York, and six months later, he runs into Virginia at a concert. Virginia never explains why she disappeared, but Robert gladly reunites with her and begins to talk about marriage. At first Virginia ignores Robert's proposals, but then, after seeing an announcement for a May 12th racing event, she abruptly proposes to him. When Robert suggests they wait until the end of the month, Virginia accuses him of not truly loving her. A few days later, they are married, but their newlywed bliss soon ends when a sleep-deprived Virginia becomes paranoid and withdraws from Robert, crying out that she can never love anyone. Back in Kik's office, Robert concludes his story and gives the doctor permission to use electric shock treatment on Virginia. After the fourth treatment, Virginia starts to come out of her daze and is startled to learn that she has been at Juniper Hill for five months. Satisfied that he has made contact with her, Kik stops her shock treatments and begins psychoanalyzing her. During their first session, Kik asks Virginia about the significance of the date May 12th, but she has no apparent memory of it. Later, after a successful visit with Virginia, Robert concludes that she is well enough to live with him on his mother's farm. Worried that Virginia may be released from the over-crowded hospital before she is ready, Kik decides to use narcosynthesis to speed up her recovery. Under the drug's influence, Virginia recalls what happened on the evening of May 12th, when she ran away from Robert in Chicago: Aware that she has promised to attend a banquet with her hometown boyfriend Gordon, Virginia abandons Robert in a bar and dashes to her house outside the city. On the way to the banquet, Gordon, an older, controlling type who is unaware of Robert's existence, proposes to Virginia. Conflicted, Virginia complains she is ill and asks Gordon to take her home. As a storm rages, Gordon turns back, but his car soon collides with an oncoming truck. Gordon is killed, and Virginia is consumed with guilt. Back at Juniper Hill, Kik reassures the still drugged Virginia that she was not responsible for Gordon's death. Later, against Kik's advice, his superiors, Dr. Curtis and Dr. Jonathan Gifford, schedule a staff meeting to discuss Virginia's release. During the review, Virginia, distracted by the violent thunderstorm blowing outside, acts confused and paranoid and is unable to answer the doctors' simple questions. When the brutish Dr. Curtis begins wagging his finger in her face, demanding that she tell him her home address, Virginia suffers a complete breakdown. Virginia is sent down to Ward 12, where she receives intense hydrotherapy and learns that, during the interview, she bit Dr. Curtis' finger. Virginia's mental state improves slightly after a chastened Robert admits to her that he was the one who pushed for the review, not Kik. Later, Virginia pretends to be ill in order to speak with Kik, and her calm, rational demeanor convinces him that she is ready for Ward 1. While there, Virginia becomes attached to a rag doll made by another inmate. Using the doll as a bridge to Virginia's past, Kik prompts her to recall her early childhood: As a girl of six, Virginia angers her mother after she trades her big doll for her neighbor's small one and refuses to return it. Jealous of her beloved father's attentions to her pregnant mother, Virginia becomes incensed when he takes her mother's side and, in a fit of pique, breaks a soldier doll her father had won for her at a carnival. Soon after, her father falls gravely ill and dies. In the present, Virginia confides to Kik that she felt responsible for her father's demise, which caused her mother to withdraw even further from her. Later, Virginia suffers a major setback when she insults head nurse Miss Davis, who is jealous of Kik's interest in Virginia, and, fearing punishment, locks herself in a bathroom. When the vindictive Miss Davis tricks Virginia into coming out, Virginia becomes hysterical and is put in a straightjacket. Virginia is then sent down to Ward 33, the section for the most severely disturbed patients, but survives and even makes friends with Hester, a violent woman who refuses to speak. Despite conditions, Virginia improves and tells Kik that being in Ward 33, a place she likens to a snake pit, has made her realize that she is not as sick as the others. Kik then explains to her how she transferred feelings of guilt from her father to Gordon, who reminded her of her father in some ways, and then to Robert, who resembled her father in other ways. After Virginia agrees that "husbands and fathers can't be the same thing," Kik informs her at a hospital dance that he is recommending her for release. During her review, Virginia easily impresses the staff and is approved for discharge. Before leaving, Virginia says an encouraging farewell to Hester, who utters a few words in response. Virginia then confesses to Kik that she knows she has recovered because she is no longer in love with him. After Kik reassures her that she never was in love with him, Virginia boards a waiting bus with the devoted Robert.