Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN (1971)
Article 3503 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2011
Posting Date: 3-18-2011
Directed by Dalton Trumbo
Featuring Timothy Bottoms, Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt
Country: USA
What it is: Anti-war drama

A young soldier suffers from a shell attack that leaves him a quadriplegic who is also unable to see, hear, or speak. The doctors and the military also believe he is brain-dead, but he is aware. How can he keep sane, and will he ever be able to communicate to those around him?

Like yesterday’s movie, this is also a winner at Cannes; it won the FIPRESCI Prize as well as the Grand Prize of the Jury. It’s also interesting to compare this to TRACKS, another anti-war movie with fantasy sequences that rise from the mind of its protagonist. But whereas the other movie lost a lot of its power due to a certain self-indulgence and lack of focus, this one remains focused and powerful, especially at the end. It’s also a rare instance where the author of a novel not only writes the screenplay (with a slight assist from Luis Bunuel) but gets to direct it as well. The movie is at its weakest when it tries to make its anti-war statement explicit, but this is fortunately confined to a stray statement here or there. Most of the movie is concerned with the protagonist’s trying to hold onto his sanity by exploring his past and dwelling on fantasy repercussions of those events; incidentally, the scenes with Donald Sutherland as Jesus Christ were written by Bunuel. The most emotionally involving scenes involve the protagonist trying to communicate with those around him; two of the most powerful scenes in the movie involve breakthroughs, one in which a nurse discovers a way to wish him a “Merry Christmas”, and the other when he finally figures out how to communicate with those outside of his mind. This would prove to be Trumbo’s sole directorial credit, and it is a truly powerful movie.

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