Spoiler Alert: The following article contains mild spoilers for Gore Verbinski's new 'gothic horror' The Cure For Wellness, so if you wanna keep the movie sacred, do yourself a favor, swallow the blue pill, and see yourself out.
When looking at Gore Verbinski's latest cinematic venture, #ACureForWellness, it's possible to rattle on for days about the manner in which it satirizes current society as we know it — from ambition and status, to the quest of finding oneself, to clean living — yet to only look into the present sociological inspirations would be to ignore the murky, downright terrifying, historical depths from which this film draws undeniable parallels.
Though of course while watching A Cure For Wellness, the acts of Volmer (Jason Isaacs) undeniably echo the experimental atrocities of Nazi concentration camps, there is another, lesser known crime — a crime that took place in the early 1900s — that one cannot help but attach alarm bells too. That crime was committed by a Mrs. Linda Hazzard, one of the most harmful "doctors" in history. And her story is as follows:
The Hazardous Doctor And 'Fasting For The Cure Of Disease'
Linda Hazzard and the tale of Wilderness Heights may not involve slimy eels wringing in bathtubs nor the bodies of elderly folks floating in isolation camps, but the tale of her harrowing treatment plan, which resulted in the death of over 40 patients, certainly draws unsavory parallels to A Cure For Wellness (ACFW).
Before the aptly named Hazzard was convicted of manslaughter in 1912, she founded a "sanitarium" in Washington, a place in which inpatients fasted for days, weeks or even months on an insane diet of tomato and asparagus juice, and sometimes an orange (if they were lucky). Despite a lack of medical degree and minimal formal training, Hazzard drummed up so much support she became known as a “fasting specialist,” and — similarly to Volmer (Jason Isaacs) — attracted wealthy patients from around the globe.
Penning a book entitled Fasting for the Cure of Disease, it was Hazzard's belief that the route of ills lay in the greed of consumption, and the path to a cure was based on ritualistic fasting — periods she described as "rests." These rests included rigorous massages (that really sound more like beatings), and daily system "flushes" — enemas or colonics, if you will. And it was her peddled belief that through these practices she could rid the body of the toxins that caused imbalances.
The Wills And Woes Of The Williamsons
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Though, as we mentioned above, over 40 patients — most of whom were (similarly to ACFW's clients) extremely wealthy — died as a consequence of Hazzard's bogus pursuits, the most famous case is certainly that of the Williamson sisters. These women were two British ladies named Claire and Dorothea, and were the exceptionally well off daughters of an English Army Officer.
On hearing of Hazzard's "most beautiful treatment" (their words), the sisters became obsessed with treating their ailments via her alternative means: Dorothea (or Dora) complained of swollen glands and rheumatisms, and Claire had been told she suffered from a "dropped uterus." Both were already fans of seeking unconventional remedies, so Hazzard's Institute of Natural Therapeutics in Ollala, Seattle certainly fit the bill. And the fact that the institute was placed in a picturesque countryside dwelling — á la ACFW — made it all the more appealing.
However, when the women arrived in the February of 1911, they were promptly informed that the institute was not ready. Instead they were set up in an apartment on Seattle's Capital Hill before transferring to Hazzard's home some two months later. In both places they were fed broths made from canned tomatoes twice per day and given hours-long enemas in bath tubs, which were fitted with supports should they faint from the procedure — and they did, regularly. By this point, they both weighed around 70lbs.
Hypnotized Into Starvation?
You might be thinking by now — where the fuck were their family members? Why did nobody care about their absence? And you'd be right in your concerns — except, people did care. The problem was that these sisters were so obsessed with alternative remedies that their disappearance due to health quests was considered typical behavior. That is, until their childhood nurse Margaret Conway became involved.
Answering a nonsensical cable from the sisters that raised the alarm, Margaret hopped upon the first boat over to America to check up on the girls. She was met by Hazzard's husband, Samuel, who promptly delivered some shocking news: Claire had died. He reasoned that drugs administered in her childhood had shrunk her organs and by the time their "beautiful treatment" had started, she was too far gone. Yeah, right. All it took was one look at Claire's embalmed body — all of which was morphed beyond recognition, weighing approximately 50lbs — to tell Margret all she needed to know.
As if that weren't enough, the cunning doctor had been appointed as the executor of Claire's considerable estate, and as Dora's life guardian — yup, Dora (who, keep in mind, is still alive) had signed over all power of attorney to Samuel and Linda Hazzard. And the couple had helped themselves to $6,000 (around $150k today) worth of the sisters' jewels, clothes and household goods. So powerful and manipulative were the Hazzards that Margaret's pleas for her escape fell on Dora's deaf ears — so much so it left the old nurse musing whether they'd actually hypnotized Dora into starving herself to death.
In the end, it took the arrival of an uncle, a $1,000 (approx $25k) ransom fee, and the involvement of the British vice consul before Dora was allowed to escape the properly.
A School For Health
Unfortunately the Williamsons weren't the only ones to fall into the "let's hand over our whole estate to this evil fake doctor" scheme; many signed away huge portions of their estates before they passed away, which, unsurprisingly, Hazzard promptly drained before anyone could bat an eyelid. And her court case uncovered a number of other dark rumors and despicable facts — rumors of Claire's body being swapped in the coffin so she looked healthier and larger. Facts that stated Hazzard had forged checks and letters to her benefit — because if you can't manipulate 'em, forge 'em.
What's worse, she was released after serving a mere two years. And in 1920 built the sanitarium of her dreams — a building called "A School For Health," where she continued to practise her wellness cure. Then, 15 years later — not so unlike ACFW, give or take a few centuries — this school burned down, and Hazzard died shortly thereafter — following a fast of her own, which, surprise surprise, failed to work.
What did you make of A Cure For Wellness?
(Source: Smithson Mag)