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Obviously any film about Viet Nam that stars Jane Fonda and Jon Voight is
going to cause more than a few knees to jerk. Fondas embracing the enemy
Voights devout pacifism have both been well-documented, so there's no need
to elaborate. Don't let this cause you to avoid this film. Many veterans
were on hand for the filming, and they saw that they were taking part in
something special. If they can draw a truce with Fonda, than you can as
The opening scene sets a tone for the film that it never veers from. A
of disabled vets play pool, and directly confront each other over why they
were there, and what it all means. Director Hal Ashby (RIP) pulls no
here. These vets aren't scholars debating on MacNeil-Lehrer. They struggle
with these questions. They don't have the fancy initials after their names
that impress people so much. There just the real people that fought the
The rest of the film follows on this point. Special care goes into each character.
Voights Luke Martin went to war to impress girls and feed his titanic ego. Because Ashby and his writers (Waldo Salt, Robert C. Jones and Nancy Dowd) didn't back off on showing Luke's bad side, it makes his transformation. He becomes a better person, because he develops the strength to look inside himself.
Bruce Dern gives an excellent performance, as well, in what is probably the trickiest part. Derns Bob Hyde is GI all the way, but returns from his first combat detail in a state of turmoil. He sees the insanity first hand and, quite frankly, can't handle it. The nice thing here is that he's not simply disillusioned by the politics of the war, but more by war, itself. It's to this films credit, that they didn't have Dern return home and do an about face and start protesting. That story has been told. Instead, once again, we see a human being struggling to understand things that may be unknowable. What makes a man cut another man's ears off, and throw them in his knapsack? How are you supposed to feel, when your fellow soldiers are boiling the flesh off a human skull, so they can mount it on a stake?
Oddly enough, Fondas character, Sally Hyde, may be the least "political" character in the film. Sure, she sees injustices at the VA hospital and gets involved volunteering, but this is merely as a novice. She asks very rudimentary questions about why the vets are being ignored, but she asks as a sympathetic human being, not an activist. As she eventually expands her horizons, she changes from an officer's wife into a more mature woman. As this happens, she falls in love with Voight. Neither person really wants it to happen. Voight doesn't want to betray a fellow soldier. Fonda doesn't want to betray her loyal husband. No easy answer.
It's a shame that "Coming Home" occupies such a small niche in film history. It's a quiet, thoughtful film that patiently tells its story. It doesn't have a single battle scene, but it remains incredibly powerful. Robert Carradines breakdown while he plays his guitar and sings, is a scene that should be taught in film school. Just one moment in an incredible film.
Don't let this gem fade away.
Without a single scene of combat footage, this story manages to convey, in realistically painful terms, how much Vietnam scarred the landscape of America. And this is only a fictional viewpoint. The true life accounts must be gut wrenching. No one returned from the war the same person. To suggest a film be made showing an unaffected soldier would be incredibley unbelievable. When attitudes change and characters grow from harsh realities, you can't help but be caught up in their struggle. People you would never expect to protest a US -involved conflict, or even question it, did so with Vietnam. The Jane Fonda Sally character is such a person. She begins the picture somewhat naive, easily trusting, and sort of tied to her straight laced military existence as the wife of an enlisted man. But then she sees an entirely different world when he's gone, and over months, falls for his total opposite, symbolizing how much she can never go back to the woman she was at the beginning. It's very subtle and deeply felt acting that can achieve this and both Fonda and Voight deserved their Oscars for their moving and expert performances. Bruce Dern is the hardest to sympathsize with on the surface, but you realize he's been scarred by what he's seen too, and what has happened to him in his absence, so his world becomes more bitter as everything he once knew shatters around him. The 3 experiences, his, Voight's and Fonda's merge together at the end, in a series of heartbreaking realizations, until you're left as broken as the country was after the war. You can't NOT be affected by what happened in Nam. It's impossible. And this film clearly shows why. It's the most personal and touching of Hollywood's Vietnam treatments. And certainly the deepest acted. Buy a copy and judge for yourself...
This film, the `other' 1978 movie about the Vietnam War, `Coming Home' takes
a different approach than Michael Cimino's stark, shocking, `The Deer
Hunter', which won a Best Picture Oscar.
Cimino used a power approach to deliver his message, drumming the filmgoer with sounds and images. Hal Ashby's `Coming Home' uses a more subdued, character approach to explore the real price of the Vietnam War.
I'm not so sure I'd agree that either Jon Voight (Academy Award-Best Actor) or Jane Fonda (Academy Award-Best Actress) is exemplary (they both won Academy Awards) but I think they are both very good. The bottom line is that this was an important movie, at a critical time, and the subject matter and its presentation really hit home. This is a film that is impossible to ignore, in 1978, or today, no matter what your political or social sensibilities may be. The language, the attitudes of all the characters is open, honest, frank. At the time this film was made, that was indeed breakthrough, for this subject matter, paramount.
An absolute must see.
Hal Ashby's film shares many of the characteristics of the other big
Vietnam film of 1978, "The Deer Hunter." Both are passionate and
essentially incoherent in their view of the war
As Ashby and
screenplay writers see it, most American soldiers who experienced the
war came back mentally and/or physically ravaged
An introductory pool table conversation among several disabled vets establishes the ground rules Anyone who defends the war for any reason is wrong Cut to enthusiastic Marine Capt. Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) and his naive wife Sally (Jane Fonda) in the Officer's Club
It is 1968
A military campaign conducted by forces of the Viet Cong has just started and Capt. Hyde is looking forward to his tour of duty in Vietnam... As a dedicated military officer, he sees it primarily as an opportunity for progress As soon as he leaves, Sally is forced to find housing off the base and moves into a new apartment by the beach with another Marine wifethe bohemian Vi Munson (Penelope Milford), whose traumatized brother Bill (Robert Carradine) is a patient at the local Veteran's Hospital
Physically, Bill is fine, but "they sent him back without an ignition," Vi says Lonely and looking for something to do, Sally volunteers at the hospital and runs across embittered cripple Luke Martin (Jon Voight). They soon discover that they went to the same high school, where he was the star quarterback and she was a cheerleader
Now, paralyzed from the waist down Luke is subject to furious, self-pitying rages, understandable but still unpleasant and offensive Sally externalizes his troubles, his scars, and his frustrations And through Luke's eyes, Sally's absolute outlook on life starts to change They soon become fairly close turning their friendship into a torrid affair At the same time, Sally's husband was away discovering the horrors of the war
There was a particular chemistry between Fonda and Voight which gave the film a certain magic
I agree with most of the comments about the overall quality of the
film. It was definitely a teamwork political statement. The
soundtrack is stunning,not only in the selection of songs from
period - by far the best film in this respect - but the subtle manner
in which they are integrated into the film's soundtrack. The acting
is good to excellent - Fonda, Voigt and Carradine in particular.
However, my one complaint is with the Dern character. In this I speak from some personal experience, as a vet with a tour of duty in Nam. This may be quibbling, but...perhaps his contract had a clause prohibiting cutting his hair, but the locks (for a Marine captain) are much too long. He would have received a direct order to get them cut . Also, the close relationship between Dern and the sergeant is out of character. Marine Corps Captains did not hang out with E5 enlisted men. This is even more blatant in the scene after Dern's return from Nam when he goes out drinking and brings home three enlisted Marines. A Marine Corps Captain would not be drinking in uniform with enlisted men on or near the base - let alone bringing them home. I won't go into the problems I have with Dern's apparent and largely unexplained repulsion at what his men did in the field. However, Dern aside, the film itself has a very authentic feel to it and there are unforgettable scenes such as those in the VA hospital and Voigt's final speech to high school students as Tim Buckley's haunting "One I Was" can be heard in the background. In many respects this film is the direct antithesis of Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket", which while visually authentic suffers from a lack of emotion.
"Coming Home" was the first Vietnam War movie that dealt with the
soldiers' plight sympathetically. Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda) is
volunteering at the Veterans' Hospital in Los Angeles while her husband
Bob (Bruce Dern) serves in Vietnam. In the process of working in the
hospital, Sally sees how the hospital is unprepared to treat the people
who are coming back from the war. When paraplegic veteran Luke Martin
(Jon Voight) demands better treatment, rather than listen to him, they
tranquilize him so that they won't have to deal with him. Over time,
Sally and Luke fall in love. When Bob returns from Vietnam, he is
completely damaged emotionally. The final scene shows the overall state
of the world as a result of the Vietnam War.
Whenever I hear the Rolling Stones' song "Out of Time", it reminds me of "Coming Home". One thing that you get to see in the movie is how, when Sally and Bob are having sex, she is clearly not enjoying it; when Sally and Luke are having sex, she clearly is enjoying it. Fonda and Voight won well-deserved Oscars for their roles, and if you ask me, the movie should have won Best Picture. A solid masterpiece.
Sadly and surprisingly relevant, "Coming Home" offers the perspective
of one man who's war experience renders him not only paralyzed but
unable to deny his own real life experience as a wartime soldier to the
extent that he can continue supporting his government's patriotic dogma
that one man should kill, torture or oppress other soldiers, men, women
and children to defend motives he now views, from a wheelchair, as
questionable. Awakening to this perspective is a woman who, attempting
to aid the war effort and make herself useful during her husband's time
of military service to his country, volunteers her time at the local
As she encounters the soldiers just returned battle with countless physical and psychological wounds too deep to enable their return to duty, she begins to understand the impossibility of their task to "get back to a normal life" and starts a longer journey out from under her own unquestioning acceptance of obeying principles that manufacture circumstances that make the peaceful pursuits of love and family inconceivable.
Her own husband does return to her, an officer who spent his tour of duty doing what he has accepted all of his life is the "right thing" for his country but he, too, is terribly damaged by what he has seen. When he discovers that he has returned to a wife that has broken both the sanctity of their marriage and the very foundation of their commonality as people - namely, upholding the belief that you must endure and inflict and perpetuate the tortures of Hell, itself, if your government demands it of you - he is unable to find a way forward in his life. As the last institutions that served as the structure of his sanity and happiness are wrenched out from under him, he faces a void too horrible to walk into and turns to the only way out that he can perceive.
This film is shot in what seems a sincere approach to relating the stories that were, immediately post-viet nam, being widely reported of and experienced by those U.S. men and women returning from service. It attempts, via narrative, to correlate them to the cultural experiences of the public. It seems to try to offer insight into the collective trauma inflicted by the very idea that war, as an institutional means of problem solving, is an acceptable and patriotic belief that merits the sacrifice of our lives and sanity.
Though the film definitely has its own perspective, it maintains respect for each of the characters represented. It remains the imperative of each viewer to decide the question for themselves.
This is not another Vietnam movie.It does deal with the Vietnam war, but
here we see how it affects the lives of two people: a disabled veteran and a
woman he meets while recovering, whose husband is away fighting. These two
characters make an emotional journey told in a intimate but resonating way.
Well written (it won Best Original Screenplay) and superbly acted (the two leads, Jon Voight and Jane Fonda won the Academy Award, but the supporting cast is also terrific), this movie also has a wonderful soundtrack to match, including classics such as Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth", "Hey Jude" or "Strawberry Fields Forever".
One of the best movies from one of the best decades in American cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd seen this movie a couple of times, the first time in the theater
when it came out.
At that time, it seemed we'd learned a lesson about war. Viet Nam was over.
So watching it again last night was even more poignant - did we really learn anything, back then? I don't think this is a heavily politicized movie, although it doesn't really show any positive effects of war, doesn't say anything positive about fighting in Viet Nam. How could it, really? They had the recruiter speaking at the high school, about duty and honor and serving the country, all true. But could he say, about Viet Nam, that we "won" or "freed" anyone?
So showing an unflinching catalog of the aftermath of battle becomes anti-war, simply because war is horrible. Very little dialog is devoted to telling us war is wrong. We can decide for ourselves based on what we see.
Another comment says this: "One could actually describe the film as the 1970s' answer to William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). " That's an excellent point. Nothing was said in "Best Years" (one of my favorite movies) that was anti-war. In fact, there is a scene in that film where the lead characters get in a fist fight with a man who says the war was a mistake. But we still saw the aftermath, the horrible wounds inflicted, the PTSD that they called "shell shock" back then, the disruption in home life, the difficulty resuming life at home. The film manages to tell the truth about war (up to a point) without being "anti-war".
Fonda's character does not become politicized. She wakes up to a certain extent but never takes a side on the issue. She supports her husband and hurts when he hurts. She supports Voight's character and hurts when he hurts. She's compassionate with the soldiers she encounters at her job. She never comments on whether Viet Nam was right or wrong. She only reacts to the pain she sees around her. Taking off her bra and letting her hair curl again, dressing like a hippy, aren't political statements about war. That was just the end of the 50's/early 60's mentality she'd been living under.
Dern's character doesn't have a lot of screen time but what he does have is riveting. He's tormented. He has no opinion about whether "the" war is right or wrong, only that "war" is awful.
People can say what they want about Fonda, but she plays this one pretty close to the vest. Her character never says "Gee, we shouldn't have gone to Viet Nam." She reacts with compassion, not judgment or recrimination.
I don't necessarily like Fonda in most films, but her turn in this one is excellent. Voight and Dern are likewise excellent, making us feel the confusion, anger and pain of their characters.
A classic movie that everyone should see.
Man, I watched this with no idea of what is was about, but I liked the directors other films, I was blown away by this films subtle power. A film like this would not be made today. The 70's was such a great time for film-making. The "risks" that were taken or at least it would be deemed as such in the film climate we are in today. The performances in this film were spectacular, the directing top notch, the pace beautiful and the ending was a punch in the gut to those who want definitive answers. Iloved it. We don't see this nowadays and regretfully probably never will again. At least we can enjoy these masterpieces today and compare to some of the drab nonsense that is produced nowadays. Don't get me wrong there is some great stuff being produced today as well, but you will not see anything as raw and unadulterated as the 70's gem.
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