Distributed by Richard Cohen Films, PO Box 1012, Venice CA 90291; email@example.com
Produced by Richard Cohen and Kevin Rafferty
Directed by Richard Cohen
DVD, b&w, 80 min.
College - Adult
Psychology, Health Sciences, Sociology
Reviewed by Timothy W. Kneeland, History and Political Science Department, Nazareth College of Rochester, Rochester, NY
Date Entered: 12/2/2010
Hurry Tomorrow is a compelling look at life inside the locked ward at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California. Granted unprecedented access to the ward, filmmaker Richard Cohen provides a glimpse at mental hospitals in 1974, just before the civil rights movement began to deinstitutionalize these bastions of social control. Cohen skillfully weaves a narrative out of the footage which suggests that the psychiatrist, his staff, and the orderlies are more in need of therapy than their hapless patients, most of whom seem to have broken social rules but pose little danger to themselves or others. The psychiatrist, Dr. Ellerbroek, has both the air of an over-the-hill hippie and a Machiavellian charlatan. His patients languish as they remain in the institution; they are given daily doses of Thorazine or a mix of psychopharmacueticals to keep them quiet; they are tied to their beds to keep them obedient. Dr. Ellerbroek, with obvious relish, plays god with the lives of his inmates, most of whom have a criminal background, keeping them in the hospital long after their initial “voluntary” commitments. He gives them the ultimate catch-22. If his patients want to leave the hospital, in his opinion they are clearly ill; if they want to remain in the hospital, then they can be released. Ellerbroek seems to take a malicious pleasure in his patient’s anguish upon hearing that they cannot go home.
Hurry Tomorrow provides an excellent look at why mental hospitals were roundly condemned and eventually emptied in the 1970s. This, the 35th anniversary edition of the documentary, is a reminder for citizens to remain vigilant so that such institutions do not return. The emotional impact of the documentary and its thought provoking scenes remain an effective introduction to the concept of total institutions and to a lesser extent the anti-psychiatric movement that began in the 1970s. More than merely the story of the institution, the film offers glimpses into the lives of the patients such as Jon, who just wants to go home, of Alan, who is so drugged he can barely walk, of Jack the veteran firefighter forced into retirement by a heart attack and who becomes a burden to his wife. Others without names such as the petty thief and the singing patient leave a lasting impression. The result is that the film makes the people, not their illnesses, the ultimate standard by which to judge how they are treated.
The film is itself a part of history. After its initial release in 1975, then California Governor Jerry Brown was so appalled by the conditions revealed by the film that he enacted significant changes to mental health law in California. Despite the 35-year interval the documentary remains as well paced and deftly filmed as when first released. In fact, it seems shorter than its 80-minute running time. It is suitable for college and perhaps high school courses, with the caveat that the imagery can be disturbing and there is occasional use of strong language.