Johnny Got His Gun

1971 anti-war movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A soldier gets his arms and legs blown off and has to spend the rest of his days on a hospital bed, unable to communicate. He's got nothing to do but have flashbacks filled with bad acting.

I'm so glad that the guy's genitals came out of all of this unharmed because I'm pretty sure there's a scene in this where the guy gets a hand-job from a nurse.

You've seen large chunks of this movie if you saw the Metallica video for "One" (a terrible song) aired in the late-80's on MTV, a cable station that plays music videos. That video chilled me, and I always thought that was mostly original material filmed for the video. Nope, it's just a bunch of clips from Johnny Got His Gun.

Don't be fooled by my 14/20 rating because that's really too high. I'm giving generous bonus points because I like that this war movie is tried something new. In medias resily, it begins after the guy's had his limbs blown off--one more than Anakin Skywalker. And then the rest of the movie is all taking place in the main character's head. And he's a main character, played by Timothy Bottoms, who we don't even get to see. Well, you see his forehead, but everything else is covered by a mask and a sheet. Bottoms does play the guy in his flashbacks where he's hanging out with his girl and talking to fellow soldiers and playing Blackjack with Christ, but most of his screen time is in that hospital room where he can just shake his head furiously.

The problem is that the acting and writing don't come close to matching the interesting idea of a look inside the head of a man ruined by the democratic American war machine. Bottoms provides terrible, almost comical voice over work.

"I need that arm!"
"You can't go around cutting a man's arm off like you were pruning branches from a tree!"
"Oh, no! Not my other arm, too!" (This after some thoughts about how one-armed men can only sell pencils, an idea that baffled me since we all learned with The Fugitive that they are good at killing wives.)
"No arms! No arms!" (Seriously. He says this.)
An extremely whiny: "Don't let them take my legs, too!"

He also asks, "How can you tell what's a dream and what's real when you can't even tell when you're awake and when you're asleep?" And that's nearly profound. He says this during one of the two scenes featuring Donald Sutherland as Jesus. That's right--Jesus is in this movie, once playing some Blackjack with soldiers, once leaning out the engine of a train and screaming, and once, giving our main character advice on how to end a nightmare while crosses are being loaded into a cart behind him. Jesus tells the poor guy that we control our daydreams while our dreams at nights control us, eventually telling the guy he needs to split because he's unlucky and is afraid it could run off. It's a real dick move, and it adds to the cynical point of view of the entire movie.

Donald Sutherland does make a pretty good Jesus though.

Jason Robards is also in this. He plays the guy's father in flashbacks, and although he's mostly pretty good, there are times when things are a little off. I think we can blame the writing for that though. There's a really unrealistic conversation he has with his son about how everything he has is small and about how he loves his fishing pole more than his kid. That kid displays some terrible child acting, but with lines like "From now on, I'm going to take my baths at the YMCA like my daddy does," he didn't have much to work with either.

Luis Bunuel got partial writing credit for this which might explain the Jesus-on-a-train scene, a very strange side show fantasy, and a brief shot of what I think was a unicorn. The oddness keeps this interesting despite its flaws. It's not a great movie, but it's definitely worth checking out if you're interested in a very depressing film that doesn't have much of a plot.

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