The play on which this film is based, by Peter Shaffer, was apparently a big hit on Broadway. Sir Peter Shaffer is now 80, and a revival of his excellent play 'The Royal Hunt of the Sun' is about to open at the NFT at the time of writing. Most will know him as the playwright behind Amadeus. Dramatically speaking a great deal happens in Equus, and it is clear why it has such appeal on the stage, also bearing in mind the (kooky) psychoanalytic approach, at a time when R.D. Laing was still in favour.
Central to the play and film is the common theme of the collapse of religious order, the sway of psychoanalysis, and the conflicts within adolescent sexuality of fantasies of power and the realisation of actual powerlessness. Or something like this. One of the really memorable moments is when the boy incessantly, compulsively repeats advertising slogans, as a kind of unthinking, worldly mantra. You realise to what extent he is subject to much larger unconscious forces, and how vulnerable in the face of these he really is. And we realise how little has changed to this day.
While fascinating, of course, the underlying psychoanalytic ideas are dated, and it remains a film (and play) very much of its time. The performances are pretty good, although Burton takes himself too seriously of course. Maybe the parallel with R.D. Laing was intentional, maybe not. Whatever, this will remain a watchable, thought-provoking and at times quite horrific exploration of the adolescent psyche, with enough happening dramatically to be always interesting and sometimes thrilling, a real period piece that still has current appeal. Had I been old enough, though, I would have preferred to see it in its original theatrical incarnation back in 1977, when it must have won over audience and critics alike.