Joe, a young American soldier, is hit by a mortar shell on the last day of World War I. He lies in a hospital bed in a fate worse than death - a quadruple amputee who has lost his arms, legs, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. He remains conscious and able to think, thereby reliving his life through strange dreams and memories, unable to distinguish whether he is awake or dreaming. He remains frustrated by his situation, until one day when Joe discovers a unique way to communicate with his caregivers.
In America,this film is underrated.In my native France,it's praised by intellectuals,and it's part of what we call "ciné-club movies".In high school,this very year,my son studied passages from the book as well as scenes from the movie. Trumbo's movie might be the strongest condemnation of war that had ever been filmed.Using two colors -and even three-,toying with present and past (could we speak seriously of future?),he makes the dream of such great predecessors as Jean Renoir (la grande illusion) come true:War is impossible,because how can a wise race could tolerate such an horror? Three colors indeed: -the bleak black and white in the hospital,where asceticism rivals the best of Robert Bresson. -the luminous,radiant scenes of Johnny's past,old forties and fifties color are constantly in evidence in those memories that recall Wyler's or Ford's heyday. -the dark and threatening color that envelops the nightmares in the ruins where Johnny tries to catch up with his only love. Johnny is helpless, his loneliness is more frightening than you'll ever experiment.God can't hear you call.The merciful Jesus of Sunday school whom Johnny's mother taught him to fear and to trust has disappeared with Donald Sutherland on a runaway train.Now it's a deaf and dumb Greek divinity -check the shots of the surrealistic nightmare-,who repeats in your suffering body,in your tormented soul ,in your mind on fire,that you cannot escape your inhumane fate. The nurse provides solace for a while.She tries to communicate with him .She believes in the dignity of man,be he a peace of flesh.It encompasses masturbation as well as simply saying "merry Xmas!"But for all the others,particularly for the officer,he's someone (something?)you must hide ,you must gag,because his world has gotten no place for a human being who represents such a slur on his pride and his glory. Johnny got a raw deal....
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