Date of publication: 2017-09-01 17:40
The film is often sentimental, sometimes brilliant as well as horrifying, and it is intriguing to speculate on what Buñuel, whom Trumbo originally wanted to direct, would have made of it.
It is interesting, then, to find it at the Southwark Playhouse, almost as proof that, despite Rattigan revivals aplenty, London's fringe can still be an oppositional space. Mercatali has, so far, confined himself to the fringe, never directing at a "subsidised" mainstream venue. "You have a lot of freedom," he explains. "You can take more risks on the fringe. You're expected to take risks."
A fter his dugout suffers a direct hit from a German shell in the last days of the Great War, 75-year-old American infantryman Joe Bonham gradually comes to in a French hospital. As his thoughts become more lucid, he realises he has been left deaf, dumb and blind and that all four of his limbs have subsequently been amputated. His face, meanwhile, has been obliterated by the shell and what is left - "a red gash. with mucus hanging from it" - is now covered by a mask to avoid distressing the nurses.
A fter being hit by a shell towards the end of the first world war, Joe Bonham wakes from a coma to slowly deduce his situation. He's lying in a hospital bed with no arms and no legs. Plus: no teeth, no eyes, no nose, no ears. He is just a torso and a train of thought.
The nurse goes to get a man who understands Morse code. This man taps onto Joe's forehead the words "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Joe spends some time thinking about the inappropriateness of the question and then tries to think about what in fact it is that he wants. Joe asks in Morse code to be taken around the outside world as an educational exhibit on the realities of war. The man listens to his response and returns a while later to tap into his head, "WHAT YOU ASK IS AGAINST REGULATIONS."
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Mr. Trumbo sets this story down almost without pause or punctuation and with a fury amounting to eloquence. New York Times
It is hard to imaging a more persuasive argument for staying out of war than this smooth, savage, brilliant tale. Chicago Daily News
I thought I was good at writing essays all through freshman and sophomore year of high school but then in my junior year I got this awful teacher (I doubt you’re reading this, but screw you Mr. Murphy) He made us write research papers or literature analysis essays that were like 65 pages long. It was ridiculous. Anyway, I found https://
Time passes, and Joe tries to occupy his mind with stories, facts, and figures. One day, he realizes that he should use the skin he has left the skin of his neck that is not covered by blankets to try to sense the outside world. Joe develops a plan to wait for the feeling of sunrise so that he can tally the nurses' visits and count the passing of the days. A year later, Joe has accomplished his goal and counted up 865 days. He celebrates the New Year in his mind, just as he has celebrated each Sunday of his year with an imagined walk in the woods.
Mercatali takes over: "War is always fought by people like Joe, by the guy who hasn't made the decisions and, really, knows nothing about the politics. He's sent out to fight for theoretical concepts – liberty, decency – that just aren't very tangible or real to him. What's real for Joe is life. Living. He's had life taken away from him, but, actually, he wants to live."
Joe continues to live inside his head, reliving memories and terrorized by nightmares. He wonders how he can even tell whether he is awake or asleep. Joe thinks about his father kept beautiful gardens in a vacant city lot and fed his children well, although he was never officially a success because he never made any money. Joe continues to think bitterly about the foolishness of fighting and dying in a war that had nothing to do with him, and about the deceitfulness of abstract words like "liberty," "democracy," "freedom," and "decency."
Horrific and terrifying, Johnny Got His Gun was almost too much to watch. It's reminiscent of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as the story is told through a WWI soldier trapped in his own body with no easy means to communicate after an explosion took his arms, legs, and most of his face, and mastermind Dalton Trumbo makes it very clear that this man (played by Timothy Bottoms) is slowly losing his mind. This is done through memory/dream sequences that start out normal enough - a goodbye night with his sweetheart before the war - but which quickly get weirder and weirder - Donald Sutherland plays an imaginary(?) Jesus and Jason Robards goes from Joe's father to a…
Really brutal and depressing, it uses these characteristics to tell a story about war and religion. The anti-war message is often shoved in your face with no subtlety though. The dream sequences and flashbacks are well done with some good symbolism. The movie could have been shorter, some parts felt like they dragged on too long and the message was practically spelled out for you by the end.
In Joe's fourth year, he is amazed to feel that the hospital staff is prepared him to be shown to visitors. When he feels the visitors lay something on his chest, he realizes he is being given a medal. Joe becomes angry and shudders in his bed, trying to remove his mask to show the visitors how much damage men like him sustained in the war while generals emerged unscathed. Joe feels the vibrations of the men leaving the room. An idea comes upon him that if he can sense the outside world through vibrations, perhaps he might also communicate to the outside world with vibrations. Joe begins tapping SOS in Morse code with his head, but his regular nurse assumes that he is having seizures and sedates him.