Using his own terminology, Billy Pilgrim is "unstuck in time", which means he is moving between different points in his life uncontrollably, although he is aware of it at certain of those points as witnessed by the letter to the editor he writes to the Ilium Daily News about his situation. Primarily, he is moving between three general time periods and locations. The first is his stint as a GI during WWII, when, as a pacifist, he was acting as a Chaplain's assistant for his unit. This time is largely as a POW, where he was in Dresden the day of the bombing, spending it with among others an older compassionate GI named Edgar Derby, and a brash loudmouth GI named Paul Lazzaro. The second is his life as an optometrist in Ilium in upstate New York, eventually married to the wealthy and overbearing Valencia Merble, and having two offspring, Robert, who would spend his teen-aged years as a semi-delinquent, and Barbara, who would end up much like her mother. And the third is as an abductee on... Written by
The character of Howard Campbell Jr. appears in the film and speaks to the American P.O.W.s before the bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut wrote an entire novel about this character called "Mother Night", later made into a film by Keith Gordon starring Nick Nolte as this same character. See more »
An aerial shot of the aeroplane in which Pilgrim is flying is reversed to make it appear to be flying left-right. The registration is reversed as it's actually a shot of the left side of the aircraft. See more »
You see in Tralfamador, where I presently dwell, life has no beginning, no middle, and no end. For example, many years ago a certain man promised to have me killed. He's an old man now, living not far from here. He's read all of the publicity associated with my appearance. He's insane. And tonight he'll keep his promise.
[murmurs throughout the crowd]
If you protest, if you think that death is a terrible thing, then you've not understood what I have said.
[...] See more »
Concerto No. 5 for Harpsichord in F minor, BWV 1056 - 2nd movement 'Largo'
Written by Johann Sebastian Bach (as J.S. Bach) Glenn Gould, Piano
Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Goldschmann, Conductor See more »
There seems always to be something exhilaratingly depressing about Vonnegut's work. It's as if our lives were slowly coming apart at the seams. There always seems to be an element of tragic waste in his characters' lives, and never is the feeling more evident than in the book and film of "Slaugherhouse-Five." It's not surprising to learn that Vonnegut really did live through the firebombing of Dresden during World War II.
If there's a weak element of the film, it's the bombing itself. By never letting the audience see outside the bomb shelter Pilgrim was in (and if so, not making it vivid enough for me to remember it), the horror and sheer magnitude of the event is downplayed. Two hundred thousand people died in the destruction of one of the greatest, most majestic cities in all of Europe, and all we're given is a shaking camera. Those who've read the book know that the trajedy was conveyed all to well by Vonnegut's skillful, near-photographic descriptions of the event and its aftermath. Very little of it made it to the screen.
Aside from that, George Roy Hill does an excellent job of communicating the existential dread of what must have been thought to be an unfilmable novel. The fate of Pilgrim's wife through her reckless driving could have come off as tasteless black comedy, but any cheap laughs are thankfully avoided, and the sequence is as shocking as it is heartbreaking. The really far-out parts of the novel (the four-dimensional aliens, Vonnegut's conception of the future and the end of the universe) are done with complete seriousness; another director might have had a condescending approach to the material, and killed the magic. The novel, by itself, is one of the best I've ever read -- it gleefully trashes the rules of standard novel-making, narration, and continuity, and manages to tell a real whale of a tale (there's a lot of weird stuff to swallow in it.) When I saw Hill credited as director, I moaned in agony, recalling the headaches that were induced by his smug, syrupy box office smashes "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting." After those two, I gave up all hope in Hill, the same way I did with Richard Lester after "Petulia" and "Help!" By the end of the movie, however, I ate my words. It's a beautiful, thought-provoking, and enchanting film, and does justice to a fine novel.
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