Johhny Got His Gun Movie Review

The last few years have seen a ton of anti-war, anti-government films come our way. I'm all for a director making a statement, but one wonders what the shelf life is for most of these movies. When your kids come of age, are they really going to appreciate half of what's happening in War, Inc.? Chicago 10 was a solid movie, but it served as a kick in the rear to the unsatisfied masses of 2008. The political climate may not be rosy in 20 years, but it will look different. Hell, it's changed immeasurably since January.

Dalton Trumbo's novel Johnny Got His Gun was first published in 1939. 32 years later it was made into a movie, which he wrote and directed. In 2009, it's finally available on DVD. Any questions about the movie's contemporary relevance are moot. Trumbo's motive is to capture the sheer monstrosity and hopelessness of war and the damage it does to a person's soul. Those themes aren't vanishing anytime soon.

The movie, set in World War I, examines the plight of Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms), a young American soldier who emerges nearly unrecognizable after an aerial attack. He has no arms and legs, and his face is an afterthought. What's worse, he can't speak, hear, or see. Making him more of an exhibit is that the army has no way to identify him. The doctors are curious, so they shove him in a room, close the blinds and the door, and keep him alive.

Joe may not be able to communicate, but he does have his thoughts (which we hear), and they terrorize him as he awakens from his slumber and gradually makes sense of his new pseudo-life. Gaining a rudimentary understanding of the new world is an exhausting mental journey that involves memories of his childhood, surreal visions, and even discussions with Jesus Christ (Donald Sutherland) and his dead father (Jason Robards). There are some parts of that journey that tax the patience; the movie would be a succinct masterpiece if 10 to 15 minutes of fatty mental anguish were eliminated. But Trumbo's message is barely diluted.

Jesus Christ is a well-intentioned nice guy and flawed card player -- "I can do almost anything but hit a 12" -- who has no solutions on how to break Joe out of his abyss. If you die on the battlefield, that's great. After all, says a corporal, "Death has a dignity all its own," so everyone wins. The story isn't so rosy for anyone who's living or half-dead. According to Trumbo, if given the opportunity your country will treat you how it deems fit. In the military's eyes, Joe isn't a person, but a medial experiment with a pulse. (At one point, he's shoved into the hospital's utility room.) It's only when a sympathetic nurse (Diane Varsi) reaches out to him -- touching him, putting a flower at his bedside -- that the poor bastard can even begin to feel remotely human. It also opens the door for unspeakable heartache.

Trumbo, one of the blacklisted Hollywood 10, clearly has little faith in any kind of higher power or organization. Humans can only rely on themselves. Basically, we're all Joe, screaming and yelling and pleading into the darkness. Johnny Got His Gun is a sobering, grueling look at us. It's why it's so difficult to watch, but also why it's so important after so many years.

The DVD has an array of goodies. There's an hour-long documentary on Trumbo, a 1940 radio adaptation with James Cagney, and Metallica's 1989 music video "One," which introduced the movie to a new generation. Of special interest to Filmcritic.com staffers is behind-the-scenes footage with commentary from Bottoms and our very own Jules Brenner, the film's director of photography.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer :

Starring : , , , Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt, Diane Varsi


Comments

Johhny Got His Gun Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG, 1971

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

Beyonce and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Tease Us With Tantalising 15 Second Teaser Clip [Video]

Beyonce teased us all over the weekend, when she shared a 15 second...

Beyonce and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Tease Us With Tantalising 15 Second Teaser Clip [Video]

Robert Downey Jr Crowned King of the Box Office

With an estimated income of $75 million between June 2013 and June 2014, Downey Jr...

Robert Downey Jr Crowned King of the Box Office

George Clooney On Getting That Tabloid Apology And Why He Had To

Ahead of his wedding to Amal Alamuddin, George Clooney has...

George Clooney On Getting That Tabloid Apology And Why He Had To

A Short History of Forgotten Destiny’s Child Member Farrah Franklin

Farrah Franklin, the forgotten fourth member of Destiny’s Child, found herself...

A Short History of Forgotten Destiny’s Child Member Farrah Franklin

Sons of Anarchy Final Season: Charlie Hunnam Spills Details

Speaking at the Television Critics Association preview night on Monday, lead actor...

Sons of Anarchy Final Season: Charlie Hunnam Spills Details

Vin Diesel Talks This Summer's Weirdest Bromance

Yet in conversation with Access Hollywood, Diesel summed up the relationship between...

Vin Diesel Talks This Summer's Weirdest Bromance
Advertisement

Rixton - Me and My Broken Heart Single Review

There's a new boyband on the UK pop scene who have somehow managed to storm single charts...

Rixton - Me and My Broken Heart Single Review

RIP Krusty the Clown? His 10 Best Moments

Krusty the Clown may have chucked his last chuckle and played his last Itchy and Scratchy...

RIP Krusty the Clown? His 10 Best Moments

Bachelorette No Longer: Ashley And JP Rosenbaum Find Out Sex Of Baby On Live TV

After being on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, some people like to retire...

Bachelorette No Longer: Ashley And JP Rosenbaum Find Out Sex Of Baby On Live TV


More recommendations

Advertisement