Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

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.

Advertisements

War Movie Watchalong – Johnny Got His Gun – Sunday 23 September

The poll has decided and the movie we are going to watch and discuss is:

Johnny Got His Gun (1971 US)

It was quite close. Johnny Got His Gun received 5 votes, The Bomber – Ballada O Bombere was following with 4 and The Hurt Locker with 3 votes.

I think it’s a good choice and I’m looking forward to the discussion.

If you’d like to join and have a blog, please post on the same day, if you don’t have a blog, just watch the movie and join the discussion.

The discussion will take place on Sunday 23 September 2012

War Movie Watchalong – Choose the Movie

It’s been a while since the last watchalong, 8 months to be precise, and I thought it was about time to do it again. Like the last time I will give you the opportunity to choose from a list of movies.

The “rules” are simple. If you’d like to join and have a blog, please post on the same day, if you don’t have a blog, just watch the movie and join the discussion.

The poll will decide which one we will watch.

Here are the choices:

The Bomber – Ballada O Bombere (2011 Russia)

Johnny Got His Gun (1971 US)

The Hurt Locker (2008 US)

I will announce the poll results on Sunday 9 September 2012.

The discussion will take place on Sunday 23 September 2012

War Movie Watchalong – Talvisota aka The Winter War

Talvisota -The Winter War is the second movie in the war movie watchalong. Unlike Master & Commander I hadn’t seen this one before and it is possible that I will dedicate another review to it as it has very interesting elements and I’m not sure to cover them all in answering the questions below.

Talvisota that is based on Antti Tuuri’s eponymous novel, shows the short but intense war that Russia and Finland fought at the beginning of WWII. It started at the end of 1939 and lasted until March 1940.  The movie is a very realistic and unemotional epic of over 3 hours. More about the Winter War can be found here. It seesm this was the only important movie of fim director Pekka Parikka. Parikka was born during the Winter War. It’s sad to know that he committed suicide in 1997.

How did you like the movie?

This was one of the grittier war movies I have watched so far. Gritty and bleak. It’s a very surprising movie, surprising because it didn’t go the way most Hollywood productions go and also because I wasn’t familiar with the war as such. At times it didn’t feel like watching a WWII movie but a WWI film as most of the fighting took place in the trenches. Watching it was similar to watching Battle of Britain. Both movies are excellent and give a great impression of the historical facts they cover but they are closer to documentary than movies as they hardly tell a story outside of the war itself.

Talvisota is often compared to Stalingrad, do you think that is justified?

I have it seen compared to Stalingrad but I cannot see any similarities besides the fact that both are set in winter. I also think it does Talvisota a disservice to compare it to Stalingrad. If I hadn’t expected something more similar I would have appreciated it much more but Stalingrad is and will always be one of my top 5 and it’s hard to compete with that.

Who is your favourite character and why?

The aim of the director wasn’t to pick a few remarkable individuals and tell their story but to tell the story of his people. That’s why there is really only Mattri and his brother who did stand out for me. Their story is exemplary for many others but during the fighting almost all of them are given the same amount of camera time.

Do you identify with any particular side or character? Why?

I cannot say I identified but I rooted for the Finns. This was such a David & Goliath situation, such an unjustified and brutal act by the Russians and it was amazing to see how couragoeus and un-emotional they fought this enemy that was so much stronger in numbers.

How is the enemy represented?  Are they stereotyped?  Demonized?

I saw them like a dark and malevolent mass. Their rows where never-ending. No matter how many the Finns shot down, there were more and more coming. The individual Russians are not shown and it’s also obvious that the Finns blamed Stalin and not the people as such but still, they felt negative.

Does the film present violence as the only way to solve problems?

I would say, yes, indeed, it does. There is no diplomacy or talking. The Russian’s attack was a suprise attack and could have ended like it did in Poland.

What are they fighting for?

They fought for their freedom. If they hadn’t fought so bravely they would have become part of the Soviet Union like so many small countries (Latvia…)

What hardships do the soldiers have to overcome?

The hardships are maybe the only real parallel I see with Stalingrad. The war took place in winter, it was cold and snow-covered the whole time. Maybe it wasn’t as hard on the Finns as on the Germans, as they were probably used to that kind of temperature. During most of the war they were trapped in trenches, in the dark and the cold. It must have been very strenuous. Add dirt and hunger to that and you get the picture.

Is the combat realistic?

The combat looked quite realistic but the explosions were overdone and the blood looked very artificial. Maybe that was a choice, maybe it wasn’t. In any case it’s one of the grittier movies I’ve seen. Some of the wounds were very gruesome and one of the main characters dies a death like I haven’t seen before. It could very well figure on a list of most gruesome deaths and wounds.

Is the movie solidly anti-war?

Despite the fact that the Finns were heroic, this isn’t an uplifting tale at all. This is one of the purest anti-war films I have ever seen.

How does it compare to movies like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line?

I don’t think it can be compared to any of the two. It’s much less character driven. It’s more documentary style, as I said before.

Did you think the ending was satisfying?

This tiny country was able to defend itself against the huge number of Russians that were constantly attacking and shelling them. As such, it was satisfying but I think there should have been some additional information before the final credits, stating how many people died, and what became of Finland and Russia after this war.

I am very glad I watched it and I’m sure, if I hadn’t expected it to be more like Stalingrad I would have liked it better. Still I think it’s a very importnat movie and one that should be better known.

Other reviews

Guy Savage (Phoenix Cinema)

War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander

This is the first time I’m doing a watchalong and I’m quite excited. The first pick was Master & Commander and we watched it before and are now posting the answers to the questions today.

How did you like the movie?

I have seen Master & Commander before and always liked it. The story is suspenseful, the characters are interesting and what is even more important to me, the cinematography is stunning. It is one of those movies you can re-watch and you will see it in a different way every time.

Is Aubrey a good Captain?

I think this depends on how you define a good Captain. He certainly is a very charismatic Captain and his people would do everything for him. He is also said to be very lucky and since seamen seem to be a very superstitious lot, it’s good for him to be considered lucky. This assures their respect. But apart from being charismatic and lucky, he is adept and very cunning.

Who is your favourite character and why?

I’d say, it’s the young boy, Blakeney who looses an arm but stays so brave and poised. The boy is very intelligent and learns a great deal as well from the Captain  as from the doctor. I liked how he is able to pick the best from every one and make the best out of every situation.

Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?

They are perfect contrasts and they make each other’s characters shine because they are so different. I did however not always think it all that plausible. The discussions yes, I can see that you can be very different and still have a great friendship, great discussions but I would doubt a man like the Captain would enjoy to play music with the doctor.

Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?

I do belive that in general Aubrey is right. He is a very capable Captain, he knows his business but in this particular instance, he isn’t following his own principles anymore. He has become a fanatic, drive by his ego. Maturin, rightly tries to reason with him but to no avail.

What did you think of the way the French are depicted?

They are shown to be the aggressor and very sneaky too. But, as the end shows, they are also very cunning. I didn’t have too big a problem with that. The French are shown as negative but not as stupid, on the very contrary, it’s because they are so cunning that Captain Aubrey feels challenged.

The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?

Seaman are said to be superstitious and it isn’t surprising. Life on a ship is hard and you are constantly exposed, to your enemies, the weather conditions, nature… It’s a precarious life. As much as they believe in luck, they believe in bad luck. The story of the Jonah is a means to explain why they are running out of luck. They try to catalyze the tensions and pick a scapegoat. It’s very unfair and shows how easily the seamen believe in tales. I thought it was very uncanny.

What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?

That depends on the point of view but I would say, the mission was over and they could have dedicated their time to collecting samples. They were not told to follow the French to the end of the world.

Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?

It was a fantastic idea but I think, no, it wasn’t ethical. It served its purpose. I was wondering if something like that could have happened. Were there rules of warfare? I don’t know.

Did you think the ending was satisfying?

I have, as I said, already watched the movie before but had completely forgotten the ending. I was surprised to see that it ended like this. It was satisfying because it showed how clever the enemy was but there is no proper end to the story. I’m meanwhile surprised they didn’t make a sequel  but I’m glad they didn’t. Those sequels often water down a orginal idea. The end also showed that the French Captain was as obsessed as Aubrey himself. These are two worthy opponents.

Here are the links to the answers of others

Novroz (Polychrome Interest)

War Movie Watchalong – Talvisota aka The Winter War – The Questions

These are the questions for movie 2 Talvisota -The Winter War which is part of the  double watch along of two movies.

Here are the questions should you want to participate. This time most of the questions have been contributed by Kevin from The War Movie Buff.

You do not need to answer these questions, you can also just post a review on the movie, participate in the discussion and link to my site. I’ll add the review to my post.

  • How did you like the movie?
  • Talvisota is often compared to Stalingrad, do you think that is justified?
  • Who is your favourite character and why?
  • Do you identify with any particular side or character? Why?
  • How is the enemy represented?  Are they stereotyped?  Demonized?
  • Does the film present violence as the only way to solve problems?
  • What are they fighting for?
  • What hardships do the soldiers have to overcome?
  • Is the combat realistic?
  • Is the movie solidly anti-war?
  • How does it compare to movies like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line?
  • Did you think the ending was satisfying?

Tha date for the watchalong is Thursday 29 December 2011.

War Movie Watchalong – Master & Commander – The Questions

As many of you know, we are doing a double watch along of two movies, the first one being Master & Commander.

Here are the questions should you want to participate.

Of course you do not need to answer these questions, you can also just post a review on the movie and link to my site.

  • How did you like the movie?
  • Is Aubrey a good Captain?
  • Who is your favourite character and why?
  • Cpt Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin, the surgeon are very different. How did you like their friendship?  Is it plausible?
  • Aubrey and Maturin disagree on the responsibilities of a ship’s captain.  Who is right?
  • What did you think of the way the French are depicted?
  • The story of the Jonah is quite intriguing, What did you think of it?
  • What was more important – getting the enemy or collecting scientific samples?
  • Was it ethical to disguise the Surprise as a civilian ship?
  • Did you think the ending was satisfying?

Tha date for the watchalong is Tuesday 27 December 2011.

The questions for Talvisota will be published tomorrow.