I’ve seen a few depressing war movies and the one or the other that affected me a lot, still I’d say the prize for most depressing war movie has to go to Johnny Got His Gun (1971 US). What a nightmare. If there ever was a movie which was completely unambiguous in its anti-war message, that’s it.
Dalton Trumbo’s novel Johnny Got His Gun was quite a success when it came out still no film director wanted to make it into a movie until Trumbo himself decided to do so. The result is unsettling.
Joe is a young man of 21 years when the US enter WWI in 1917. Patriotism and a feeling of duty, the wish to serve his country and democracy make him sing up. Once in France he is severely wounded, loses both of his arms and legs and his face as well. They put him in a utility room in the hospital, his head covered with cloth. The doctor who is in charge declares that he is brain-dead. According to him he doesn’t feel or sense anything and isn’t much more than a vegetable really.
The scenes showing Joe in the hospital are black and white and they alternate with color scenes representing either dreams and hallucinations or memories. As the spectators soon realize, Joe isn’t brain-dead. He has a feeling for himself and slowly discovers the horrific state he is in. Together with him we realize at first that his arms are missing, then that his legs are missing too and later that there is only the top of his head and the brain left.
In the flashbacks we see his life before he signs up and in his dreams and hallucinations show how he tries to make sense, tries to find a meaning and some reason to live.
If it wasn’t for one nurse who is so shaken by compassion his live would be even more miserable than it is. She sees more than just a rump in him, moves his bed into the sunlight, touches him and tries to communicate with him.
The end is absolutely horrible. Joe finds a way to communicate with the people around him in using morse code. He tells them to expose him. As a warning, for people to learn. When the doctors see their mistake, that he isn’t brain-dead but knows what is happening to him, they lock him up, and deprive him of what little he had. He ends up as a secret and one can not even imagine what that means. Alone, abandoned and without the possibility to end his own life.
Johnny Got His Gun may be one of the most forceful anti-war movies ever but it’s really a very depressing movie. Not one I’m likely to watch again.
This was part of a watch along and I’m curious to hear other impressions or read other reviews.