In 2010, after Avatar was already cemented as the highest-grossing movie of all time, James Cameron was asked by a fan whether he was interested in doing a smaller movie.  Cameron responded, “I've had a few projects over the years that have fallen by the wayside for various reasons. But frankly, I like big productions. I'm not particularly interested in doing a little film just for the sake of doing a little film.


The one “little film” that Cameron probably came closest to actually directing was A Crowded Room, a psychological drama set in the 1970's.  As we'll get to briefly, the story was based off of a book, The Minds of Billy Milligan, which was, in turn, based off of a true story.  The screenplay tells of the realization and diagnosis that a serial rapist had extreme multiple personality disorder, which caused (according to the believers) twenty-four different, independent personalities to exist inside his brain. 


As salty as that material sounds, the real-life story of why the picture was never made is also interesting in its own right.   


This article will detail why the movie never got made, then summarize Cameron's story and screenplay for A Crowded Room.


The book The Minds of Billy Milligan was apparently published in 1981, just about a year after the events in the book – Billy Milligan's various court cases – were completed.  It was written by successful author Daniel Keyes who, at the time of the real-life Billy Milligan controversy, was teaching in Ohio, the same state where Milligan committed the rapes.  The rights to make the book into a movie were apparently purchased by a woman named Sandy Arcara (who has been described as an “East Coast independent producer” and “a New York-based restaurateur” by various journalists and who, to this day, has just one TV movie on her film industry resume`.)  At some point in the late 1980's or early 1990's, Arcara got in contact with James Cameron and he became very interested in the rights to the book.  Cameron says, “I was looking for a small drama after the 'most expensive movie in history,'” referring to Terminator 2's reported cost.  Just days before Terminator 2 was released, Cameron definitively and enthusiastically said that it was going to be his next movie.  Speaking to a group of science fiction fans, Cameron described the story and then playfully teased them, “I know you science fiction guys are like 'That's bullshit!'  But I don't care, that's the movie I'm making.” 


Cameron said, “To do all those characters and externalize the drama that was playing out in that guy's head would have been as big a challenge, in its own way, as making The Abyss.”  Cameron met with Billy Milligan himself, describing him as “very interesting” and saying “We kind of got to be friends.”  Although only Cameron's name was attached to the screenplay (which is available on numerous internet sites), it was reportedly co-written by Todd Graff, who had acted in the role of “Hippie” in The Abyss for Cameron.  Graff said, “Writing for Jim, the only rule was to not edit your imagination - acting for him was the same but with worse hours. Instead of 'If You Build It, They Will Come.' Jim's motto is 'If You Can Imagine It, They Will Build It.' And for Jim they always do - or else.” 


 With the screenplay completed, pre-production apparently hummed fruitfully along.  Cameron said, “....We'd cast John Cusack to play the guy, and I was in pre-production. I was ready to go shoot.” He had also spoken with cinematographer Russell Carpenter about being its director of photography and, reportedly, a budget of $11 million was set for the movie.

But then....the lawsuits started.  Cameron and Arcara had “joint control of the material.”  Arcara, very probably witnessing the colossal success of Terminator 2, thought that she deserved more money.  She filed a lawsuit which reportedly claimed that her salary should be raised from $250,000 to $1.5 million.  Arcara was also apparently frustrated by Cameron not communicating regularly with her.  She was quoted as saying, “Jim's a guy who works to the beat of his own drum.  He's also very secretive.  He's not the same person he was when I brought him this project three years ago.”

Arcara was then joined in her lawsuit by Billy Milligan himself.  Milligan was said to be seeking $9 million from Cameron because, he claimed, preparation for the movie had caused him to move to Los Angeles.  One reporter described Milligan's lawsuit as “a thinly disguised effort to keep Cameron from making True Lies,” and, therefore, force him to make A Crowded Room.  James Cameron said, “[Milligan] ultimately contributed to the downfall of the project. …. He got in the middle of this whole thing because he wanted his story told. He was running around creating more chaos, filing lawsuits. It turned into madness.”


Milligan and Arcara's lawsuits had the exact opposite of their apparent intended effect on Cameron.  Rather than bowing to the legal and financial pressures and simply making the movie, Cameron withdrew from it entirely.  He said, “[Arcara] turned out to be someone I couldn't work with and who felt that they couldn't work with me.  ….I sort of didn't want to tell his story anymore, you know?” Years later, speaking more flamboyantly, Cameron said, “I don't negotiate with terrorists or extortionists, so I told her to take a flying fuck and I collapsed the project.”

(This was in 1992.  Around this time, James Cameron was also working out a very complex new production deal with Twentieth Century Fox, and it's also very possible that he was in the early stages of forming Digital Domain, the special effects company that he would co-found in 1993.  So, it can be inferred that Cameron was, very possibly, losing interest in A Crowded Room because (a) he might have been seeking a more financially promising movie with which to inaugurate those two business deals, and (b) he was so busy juggling these various pursuits that a low-budget psychological drama began to seem underwhelming.  However, this is all speculation, and Cameron has only cited the difficulties in dealing with Arcara and Milligan as the cause of his departure from the project.)

Technically, Cameron didn't collapse the project, he just collapsed his involvement with it: Milligan and Arcara withdrew their lawsuits with the term that Cameron relinquish his rights to the story.    So, for some years afterward, there were numerous reports of various stars and directors who wanted to make the picture.  As this is being written in 2010, however, it never came to fruition.  As we'll see below, one of the major reasons that it was never made might well be that the most interesting and innovative idea in the story – its method of visualizing complex psychological problems – was rendered somewhat passe` when at least two other successful Hollywood movies beat it to the punch.



The basic story of A Crowded Room is this:


A rapist has assaulted three women at the Ohio State University campus, causing a massive police investigation and a minor panic at the university.  The victims' descriptions of their assailant all appear to be the same man, but there are also some confusing differences in how they describe him.  Eventually, the police arrest Billy Milligan for the crimes.


While in police custody, Milligan is routinely beaten and insulted by the cops.  Milligan's behavior while jailed is very erratic and bizarre: sometimes he's aggressive, other times docile, sometimes he writes left-handed, other times right-handed, etc.  He's eventually interviewed by a number of psychologists, one of whom deduces that Milligan has “multiple personality disorder.”  The story reveals that there are a number of different personalities in Milligan's brain, and they often emerge when they're most useful, thus explaining the wild changes in Milligan's behavior.


Citing this diagnosis, Milligan's public defender attorney eventually gets Milligan committed to a mental hospital, where the diagnosis is confirmed, and so he's then acquitted of the rape charges by reason of insanity.  This causes significant public debate and consternation about both the validity of the diagnosis, with some people even saying that the disorder itself doesn't exist. 


After the verdict is rendered, the story transitions into a series of flashbacks which form a biography and show the genesis and form of his multiple personality disorder.  His biological father was a failed comedian who Billy loved but who committed suicide.  Soon after, his mother moved to Ohio with her young child in tow, where she married a man. Billy's step-father abuses him both sexually and physically, in extremely sadistic and depraved ways.  To escape these abuses, Billy began forming alternate personalities.  These alternate personalities are wildly different from one another, and many of them are absolute experts in various crafts, such as painting, martial arts, and historical knowledge.  One personality will possess Billy's body by going into “the spot”, which is visualized as a spotlight on a stage where the active personality resides. 


As Billy matures, these different personalities began to harm him: most notably, he loses a job and a relationship because he can't remember various people and information from one day to the next.  In righteous anger, some of his alternate personalities plot to assassinate his step-father for the abuses he committed years prior.  However, Billy can't follow through with it.  Finally, he's financially broke and emotionally distraught, and his various personalities begin raping the coeds at Ohio State. 


The story soon returns to the present time, where Billy Milligan is incarcerated in a mental hospital after the rapes.  With the help of some of the physicians at the institution, Billy has sadly, but cathartically, identified most of his alternate personalities and understands his illness.  Because of this, he's scheduled to be released from custody.  However, when news that the rapist will be again walking the streets breaks out, there's a public outcry.  A politician (who's both grandstanding and yet still sincere) jumps to the public forefront to make sure that Milligan remains incarcerated.  This results in a pair of dramatic courtroom speeches by the prosecutors and then Milligan's attorney.  At stake is whether he will be freed outright or whether he'll be imprisoned in an institution that's considered extremely dangerous and abusive.  Despite a heartfelt argument from Milligan's attorney, the judge sides with the prosecution and he's sent to the harsh prison.


Milligan resides in the Hellish prison for several years, until it's closed down and he gets released.  The story ends with text saying that Milligan is now successfully “fused.” 



It probably comes across in the summary, but A Crowded Room is not a particularly “plot-driven” movie – not at all. James Cameron had said that the biggest challenge in making the movie was going to be, “To do all those characters and externalize the drama that was playing out in that guy's head,” and  it seems fair to say that that challenge was also the emphasis of the movie, much more so than its modest, sequential narrative.  Beyond that, the goal of the story appears to be to show a man behaving horribly, and then, after the audience has developed a prejudice against him, to pull the rug out from the audience by showing that the man actually deserves sympathy.  Thus, the reader is apparently intended to journey from one end of an emotional continuum (outrage and incredulity) all the way to the other end (sympathy and compassion). 


The screenplay opens with a highly abstract montage of animated paintings (presumably the opening credits would be overlayed on this).  The various images will become somewhat significant later on, but the recurring motif of Billy Milligan painting is a somewhat odd one: it has very little correlation to his disorder, and it's relevance to either the story or to his life's problems is explained hazily, if at all.


The story then cuts right to the three rape victims giving their statements to police detectives.  Their highly differing accounts are overlapped with each other in a way that, although somewhat confusing in the screenplay format, would probably be easily understood on screen.  Nevertheless, the intercut statements and the bizarrely varying accounts of the women (for example, one victim saying that the rapist had a mustache, the other saying he was clean shaven) start the story off on a disjointed note. 


One of the rape victims definitively identifies Milligan from a mug shot, and the police then raid his house.  Before they enter, however, the cops hear various “people” arguing with each other, and mistakenly believe that there are others inside.  Of course, these are just Billy's various personalities arguing out loud, which then leads to a small plot hole: at no other point in the screenplay do the personalities debate out loud, it's always just inside his head.  (On another small note, the screenplay reads, “ONE COP steps on a [Lego] fort – crushing it.”  Fans of Cameron might observe that a similar visual was used in both Terminator movies.) 


As noted in the summary, the cops' treatment of Milligan after he's been arrested for the rapes is brutal: they're shown to be bigoted thugs who enjoy taunting and beating prisoners.  One example of this comes in this incident:


The GUARD starts to turn away, but BILLY gets up.  He comes to the bars and reaches for the cup.  The GUARD grabs his wrist and pulls.


                         SECOND GUARD

          Hey, you think we oughta tattoo this

          Jew Boy?


                         FIRST GUARD

          Yeah.  Put some numbers right there.


BILLY pulls his arm free as the GUARDS laugh.


                         SECOND GUARD

          Here ya go, Rembrandt.


He throws the drink onto BILLY'S picture, ruining it.


Instantly, BILLY changes.  His eyes, his gait. His chest expands and his adrenaline flows a mile a minute as he gets up and walks over to the toilet bowl.  He squats and grabs hold of it.  The GUARDS give each other a look, then eye him warily.  Sweat pours down as he focuses his strength till it's like the pinpoint of a laser.  Then, with a mighty heave he rips the toilet from the wall, stands and hurls it at the GUARDS in one impossible motion.  It smashes into a million pieces porcelain shards fly into the GUARD'S faces, cutting them to ribbons.


Interestingly, this portrayal of cops as thugs squares directly with Cameron's consistently harsh portrayal in both Terminator movies as well as Titanic, where the thug bodyguard is an ex-cop himself.


In addition to the Herculean display of strength there, the police also discover that Milligan is an escape artist that would make Houdini blush and that his apartment had so many guns that it's referred to as an “arsenal.”  These wildly divergent skills and attributes – any one of which would take most individuals years to master – really stretch the story's plausibility. 


After Milligan displays one behavioral contradiction after another, one of the numerous psychologists who interviews him, a woman named Dr. Hubbard, finally diagnoses him as having multiple personality disorder.  This, then, leads to the introduction of Milligan's attorney, Gary Schweickart, who's initially very incredulous about the diagnosis, in part because he's a public defender with enough on his plate that he initially doesn't want to have his time wasted by a phony.  When he first meets Milligan, his new client rapidly shifts back and forth between personalities.  It's through Gary's questioning of Milligan that the various personalities are first introduced.  Among others, we learn of a “Ragen,” “Tommy,” “Arthur,” and “Danny.”  (Billy's eyes go into REM mode when he transitions.  In order for it to have not come across as preposterous and silly, this scene probably would have taken some exceptional acting.)


Both Gary's skepticism and some of Milligan's traits come across in this exchange between Gary and one of his assistants after the initial meeting:


BILLY alone in his empty cell, eyes half-closed, lips moving silently.


                         GARY (O.C.)

          He's facing hard time.


                         JUDY (O.C.)

          He's got one right handed



                         GARY (O.C.)

          Lots of people are ambidextrous.


                         JUDY (O.C.)

          Ragen speaks and writes prefect



                         GARY (O.C.)

          So do ten million Serbs.


                         JUDY (O.C.)

          Apparently, Arthur's fluent in

          Arabic and Swahili.


                         GARY (O.C.)

          Having a facility for languages

          doesn't automatically make you one

          hand short for bridge.


                         JUDY (O.C.)

          The escape artist, the wandering

          eyes, the electronics expert...





          All of that can be mastered.



          All by one person?  With a hundred

          I.Q.?  From a small farm in Ohio?

          You're looking for some kind of

          miraculous, inexplicable "thing" to

          prove this to you beyond a shadow of

          a doubt.  Well, it's an illness,

          Gary... not a magic trick.  And I

          believe him.


Milligan is then admitted to a decent mental hospital where he's eventually given an “EEG” test, which measures his brainwaves.  At separate times, he exhibits brainwaves which are unique to children, and then at another time standard adult brainwaves.  Because of this, the doctors there confirm the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, and Billy is found not guilty of the rapes by reason of insanity.  Throughout all of this, various people – nurses, reporters, cops, etc. – continue to believe that he's faking his illness.  In fact, only select few main characters, like his attorneys, are shown to believe this at all. 


It is after that verdict is rendered that the story then transitions to an extended series of flashbacks which, collectively, form a biography of him and “reveal” that he's not faking and that his disorder is even more severe than what's been shown thus far.


The flashbacks begin with young Billy watching his father fail miserably as a stand-up comedian.  However, Billy is just a toddler and so, to him, his dad is a hero.  As he watches his dad on the stage performing, lit by the spotlight, we're being subtly introduced to the very visual metaphor that Billy (and the screenplay) will later use to show how the various personalities commandeer his brain.  Further, we're introduced to some people who, later on, will become inspirations for Billy's alternate personalities.  For example, at the comedy club, Billy is helped by a large Eastern European busboy who saves him from some chastisements of another busboy.  


Very soon after this, Billy's father commits suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide, and Billy and his shell-shocked, emotionally distant mother move to Ohio.  His mother is clearly anxious to get married again and so she's entirely blind to the creepy things that her new husband does around her son (including trying to have sex with her right in front of him) and the extreme abuse he later inflicts upon him. 


The first alternate personality emerges after Billy has been raped by his step-father.  Billy is tied to a piece of farming equipment after the rape (the scene cuts in afterward) and then his eyes and face start to make the contortions described earlier when the adult Billy was shifting between one personality and another.  This first personality, “Tommy” is a teenage boy and he's able to dislocate his thumb to free himself from his bindings.  The revelation comes when Billy walks over to a place where he'd earlier painted his name and, beneath it, now paints “Tommy.”  Soon after, other personalities emerge, including a young girl, “Christene,” and the tough Eastern European inspired by the busboy, “Ragen.” 


 Very quickly, the story jumps ahead from pre-adolescent Billy to an age twenty-one Billy.  It's quickly made clear that Billy's having a hard time controlling his life: he's broke, and one of his personalities is clearly a drug dealer.  For money, Billy (as Ragen) soon becomes hired muscle for some local drug dealers.  To get the job, he again exhibits absolute mastery of yet more crafts that, frankly, would probably take years of dedicated study to master in real life: marksmanship and martial arts.  The story discusses how no one man could know so much about so many different things in support of the multiple personality diagnosis, and yet it's never seriously shown how one body could ever have the time or physical aptitude for all these different crafts.  This problem persists throughout the entire screenplay and is never given anything more than a perfunctory explanation.


 In keeping with a concept throughout many of Cameron's movies, when Billy is hired to be a thug, he says, “Except one thing.  I do not hurt people unless my life is in danger, and I do not hurt womans.”  Throughout all of Cameron's movies before Avatar, the protagonists never killed anybody (with the exception of True Lies which was obviously more of a comedy romp than a serious picture.) 


Somewhat confusedly, the story then has flashbacks within the flashbacks: it shows Billy as a middle school student, when a guidance counselor suspects that he's got some weird variation of schizophrenia and he's respectfully admitted to a mental hospital.  In one of the parts where it jumps back to showing twenty-one year old Billy, the “rules” of how the various personalities share Billy's body are agreed on by them.  One of them, “Arthur,” a smart Englishman, explains:



          We'll make rules.  Everyone will

          have specific duties that are

          tailored toward their particular

          talents.  Tommy is an electronics

          genius, as well as an escape artist.

          Several of us are painters.  I excel

          at foreign languages and dabble in

          medicine and biochemistry.  The

          girls do domestic chores.


As a twenty-one year old, Billy is quickly fired from a job at a manufacturing facility because he can't remember what he's supposed to do as he shifts from one personality to the next (although later on, he actually returns to the job when one of his personalities doesn't know he's been fired).  Soon after, he meets a sweet girl named Francine who is attracted to him precisely because he does have a “dark part.”  When they first meet at a party, we also learn that, when he consumes alcohol (and, presumably, other drugs) only the personality that did the consuming is affected by it:



          How much have you had to drink?



          Me?  What about you?


He looks at the beer in his hand, not knowing how it got there, and not feeling the least bit drunk.



          One minute you're fallin' down

          drunk, the next you're sober.  You

          gotta teach me that one.  So, are we

          going to your place?


Although Billy and Francine have a tender affair, through it all, the story makes clear that his disorder is harming him with greater frequency and severity.  There are several points where Billy is doing one thing very briefly, then it reads, “BLACKOUT,” then it shows him doing something totally different, “BLACKOUT,” and then something totally different again, “BLACKOUT.”  The two most prominent alternate personalities, Arthur and Ragen, eventually identify that they're losing control of him:


BILLY stands in the middle of the living room talking to himself in an English accent.



          It's getting harder and harder to

          keep control.  The mix-up times are

          happening far too frequently.  The

          undesirable personalities have been

          stealing.  And today I found this.


He's holding a bail receipt.



                  (Slavic accent)

          Someone is doing drugs.  No one can

          hold a job.



                  (English accent)

          It's all slipping away...


There are three scenes that especially show how Billy's disorder is, by now, making it impossible for him to function.  First, one of the drug deals that he's involved with goes bad and he has to shoot somebody.  Then, he somehow ends up at a highway rest stop late at night and he viciously assaults a transvestite prostitute and a couple of johns.  Finally, after Francine sees him nearly commit suicide, she breaks up the relationship.  As all this progresses, the various personalities are shown arguing about the events and who should control “the spot.”


Billy then takes a trip to London (presumably as “Arthur”) where, funnily, he behaves like an archetypal Englishman from the early twentieth century when, of course, the reality of English culture had long shifted:


BILLY coming out of a fish & chips shop -- happily munching away.  He passes a BUSINESSMAN in a suit.  Next to him, it's painfully clear how removed from reality ARTHUR'S cliched vision of a proper Englishman is.



                  (greets him)

          Cheerio, wot.


The BUSINESSMAN gives an odd look to this antiquated stranger as he passes.


When Billy is extradited from England because he has no money or documents of any sort, the humiliation causes his alternate personalities to funnel all of their rage into the plan to assassinate his stepfather.  (As this is being debated, Cameron's theme of valuing human life again arises when Arthur says, “Killing is wrong.  We only protect ourselves if we are threatened.”)  The scene plays out over several pages, as the stepfather is leaving his house and Ragen has him in the crosshairs of a rifle scope.  The various personalities debate this heatedly.  Ultimately, a shot is simply fired in the direction of the stepfather, who apparently doesn't even realize it, and there's no resolution.


 It is then that the screenplay jumps back to the rapes, playing them out, with two major differences.  The first is perceptual: at this point, the audience is clearly intended to have a lot more sympathy for Billy than at the start of the story.  (Although, assuming this is accurate, it overlooks the reality that most people automatically know to identify with, and have sympathy for, the main character in any work of fiction, and so it seems highly probable that most viewers would have been sympathetic at the start, anyway.)  The second major difference is that, rather than seeing Billy as the culprit, we instead see the bodies of his various personalities ordering the rape victims around and then robbing them.  Interestingly, it's one of Billy's female personalities, “Adalana” who rapes the women.  (One critic who read the screenplay quipped, “Not sure how that works.”) 


After he's arrested, the flashbacks continue to show him in jail only, again, we now see the various personalities themselves as the ones in jail, rather than Billy. 


 Finally, after the chaos of Billy's mindscape is displayed in one last flourish of “BLACKOUTS,” the story returns to the “present day,” where Billy is in a mental hospital after he's been acquitted of the rapes.  Billy is visited in a hospital bed by a nurse who, at a glance, sees that he's somehow purged of the alternate personalities.  She says, “Oh my God.”  And he calmly states, “I'm Billy.”  The simple moment of peace is obviously meant to put a cap on the confusing mania that had been increasingly building throughout the flashbacks. 


Billy then has an extended meeting with a doctor, where the two of them discuss how the alternate personalities took control of him by viewing old videotapes of him being interviewed as the personalities.  It's shown that he's now on medication and, seemingly, in control of himself, at long last. 


 Then, there's a cut to a news broadcast breaking the story that the rapist is about to be freed a mere ten months after the offenses.  The public protest that follows inevitably brings with it a grandstanding politician, who arranges for a new legal hearing.  What's at stake is whether Billy will be freed outright, at the doctor's request, or whether he'll be assigned to “Lima” prison, which is described as a “butcher shop” of a prison.  Gary, still Billy's attorney, says, “You send him to Lima and you're going to kill him..”  One interesting note is that the politician is shown to be both sincere and knowledgeable in his actions.  That is, he's not just the archetypal villain seen in many political dramas (however accurate the archetype might be).  Before the hearing, he talks with Gary and he gets the last word in: 



          I know you, Schweickart.  You don't

          think you're on the right side

          unless you feel like the underdog.

          Well, this time your compassion is

          misplaced.  Try thinking about the

          victims.  Try thinking about their

          families.  I'm gonna stop you, Gary.

          And I'm not gonna lose a night's

          sleep afterwards.


Billy's testimony in the hearing explains (or at least rationalizes) questions that many skeptical viewers might have of how one human being could do all that Billy did, and also why Billy never sought any sort of treatment.  Here are two parts of Billy's testimony to questions that Gary poses to him:



          Billy, before you were arrested and

          Dr. Caul started treating you, did

          you ever suspect that there was

          anything wrong with you?



          Sure.  I knew I lost time and heard

          voices in my head, but I thought

          that happened to everybody.



          Didn't you think it strange that no

          one talked about it?



          I was so scared and embarrassed, I

          figured everyone else was, too.

          Then, every once in a while, I'd

          hear someone say "I don't know where

          the day went" or "Did I have fun

          last night?".  I thought that was as

          close as anybody came to discussing






          And how do you feel now, after ten

          months at Athens?



          Well, I feel whole, like I'm one

          person for the first time in my

          life.  I used to feel like a freak.

          But then I got to thinkin' -- in my

          life, I've learned to get out of

          handcuffs and straitjackets, be a

          righty or a lefty, control if I'm

          drunk or sober, talk Arabic, Hebrew,

          Yugoslavian, Japanese, learn martial

          arts, play piano and drums, make my

          eye shake, be an artist... And, I'm

          no rocket scientist... my I.Q. is

          pretty average -- so I got to

          thinkin' if I could do all that,

          then couldn't everybody?  They just

          don't know how to tap into it.  But

          if they have a brain, just like I

          have a brain -- and it's made up of

          the same muscle and stuff that mine

          is, then maybe, just maybe, if they

          went through what I went through as

          a kid, they might have split up into

          a bunch of different people like I

          did.  And then I didn't feel like

          such a freak.  I felt like someone

          who got forced to open a door

          everybody else gets to keep locked.

          I felt like that but for the grace

          of God go there.


The testimony of the prosecutors is equally illuminating and, it's probably safe to assume, far more convincing for many people.  Here's the opening of the prosecutor's statement:



                  (reads from a book)

          Multiple Personality Disorder is a

          form of narcissism.  A willful

          disease.  Cowardly.  It is the five

          year old child with powdered sugar

          on his lips saying "I didn't eat the

          last doughnut."


He put the book down.



          You have already heard the testimony

          from his psychiatric resident at

          Lima State Hospital, Dr. Frederick

          Milkie, who, after examining the

          defendant, concluded not only that

          he did not suffer from M.P.D., but

          that in all probability, the

          disorder itself does not exist.  The

          defense has certainly offered no

          physiological evidence to the

          contrary.  Only differing

          professional opinion.  But, your

          honor, the validity of Mr.

          Milligan's psychiatric claims is not

          at issue here.  What is at issue is

          the safety of this community from a

          convicted sex offender.


Later, Gary's closing statements runs for a full two pages, with no breaks, flashbacks, or visual aids of any sort.  He starts out with a strong moral defense of Billy, saying that he endured the most horrific forms of abuse as a child and, like many children, he developed an active imagination to flee from it.  Unfortunately, the products of that imagination, “didn't conveniently go away when he grew up and no longer needed them.”  He then points out that, while it's possible that multiple personality disorder can be faked (or might not even be real), “it's symptoms cannot be faked.”  Thus, the various real phenomenon that Billy displayed in the hospital's care are solid, substantive evidence that his disease was real.  Finally, he makes a strong moral argument, and also creates a terrific analogy to justify Billy's release:


          We all like to think of ourselves as

          compassionate and caring human

          beings and yet as soon as that

          compassion threatens to demand

          something real from us -- a

          demonstration -- proof of its

          existence -- we draw the line.

          Please, your honor, let's use this

          opportunity to take one small step

          in narrowing the gap between our

          potential for compassion and the

          reality of its limits.  If I have an

          incurable disease, and I don't know

          it, and I give it to you, and you

          die -- can I to be tried as a

          murderer?  No.  I didn't know I was

          sick.  So you decide to quarantine

          me instead, which is only sensible,

          since we don't want me to hurt

          anyone else.  But, if I'm then cured

          to the point where I'm no longer

          contagious... do you never let me

          out again?


The judge determines that Billy is a danger to society and must go to Lima prison.  As a montage of Billy entering the prison and its inner horrors are described on-screen (forced medication, electroshock therapy, even an exorcism), a haunting voiceover then begins.  It's revealed that Billy is reverting to his multiple personalities to avoid the pain, just as he did when he was a child.  However, on a more hopeful note, Billy is shown painting in his cell, “painting himself out of Hell and into a world of escape.” 


Finally, in a cinematic method common to “true” stories, title-cards were to appear on-screen.  Billy's case continued through to the Supreme Court, and he was eventually sent back to the first mental hospital.  It then says, “Today, after thirteen years in the Ohio Mental Health System.  Billy Milligan is a free man and supporting himself as an artist.” 



If my personal opinions didn't seep through enough in the summaries, I'll say that, in my opinion, James Cameron is probably fortunate that he never directed A Crowded Room, because I don't think that it was either a very compelling story or even a particularly well-written screenplay.  For me personally, the biggest problem throughout was a simple disbelief that multiple personality disorder could possibly be this acute and, more specifically, it just seems impossible, with only eighteen waking hours in a day, that anybody could master all the crafts that Billy's personalities supposedly mastered.  It seems almost like those adolescent delusions about karate and tae kwan do, where many kids think that there are a few simple tricks that can be learned that will, like magic, make them unstoppable physical specimens, when the reality is a little bit less dramatic. 


One other element that probably might limit modern readers' (or viewers', if it ever gets produced) enjoyment is that perhaps A Crowded Room's most unique and interesting trick – visualizing Billy's mental disorder – has since been utilized by at least two successful movies, Fight Club and A Beautiful Mind.  (Although the latter dealt with schizophrenia rather than multiple personality disorder, it used the similar technique of filming delusions as if they were entirely real-world events.)  It seems likely that there are probably many other movies and TV shows that used these tricks, even before 1992.  But with the success of those two movies, it would almost seem cliché and old-hat nowadays. 


With all this said, it seems a little weird that this came so close to actually being “A Film by James Cameron.”  It's possible that Cameron was uniquely drawn to this story because he felt some personal connection to the Billy Milligan character.  Like Milligan, Cameron himself is a very talented figure artist and, clearly, he has an extremely active imagination, too.  Maybe, on some level, he saw Billy Milligan as what he might have been if he had endured serious abuse.  However, this is entirely speculation on my part. 


 But, anyway it's analyzed, it seems fortuitous for Cameron's career that it was never made.  After the whole legal “madness,” Cameron promptly made True Lies, (a movie that, ironically, was probably his least personal movie.  It was produced very quickly, was a re-make of a French movie, and Arnold Schwarzenegger actually brought the project to him!Although True Lies wasn't necessarily a smash hit relative to its budget, it was certainly enough of a hit that it helped to fortify Cameron's track record as somebody who brought returns on big investments.  That track record, of course, had to have played a big part in Twentieth Century Fox investing in Titanic in 1995 and the rest, of course, is history.


Written by David Brennan from exclusively for JAMESCAMERONONLINE

Copyright 2010, David Brennan