Johnny Got His Gun (1971) Jesus H Sutherland This Film Is FUBAR

Johnny Got His Gun (1971) movie poster film dalton trumbo

Jeepers creepers, what can you say! How deep can a film go? Seriously this is an emotional thought-provoking, haunting journey into the human soul. What happens to the human mind when that is all you are, just a mind?

Tagline – The most shattering experience you’ll ever live.

Definitely not a film many people are going to jump to see. Not a weekend escapism film to watch with a loved one over a big bag of popcorn. Although if you fancy something very diverse, challenging and a visceral experience into the spirit of one man’s conscience heart and mind then this is the film for you.

Johnny Got His Gun (1971) three doctors surgeons dalton trumbo

Set during the First World War, our hero Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms) is a young American soldier who is hit by an artillery shell whilst on the battlefield of France. With the opening shots of the movie starting with three doctors looking over him as they discuss what the hell are they going to do with him. Poor Joe has unfortunately awoken to a fate worse than death itself. Not only is he a quadruple amputee but has lost his sight, hearing, smell and even his mouth. Somehow Joe has survived? He remains in a conscious state drifting in and out of dreams and reality with memories of his past life and loves. Fantasy dream like conversations as he constantly drifts through a timeless world, drugged and sedated.

Johnny Got His Gun (1971) hospital beds surreal over lapping imageJohnny Got His Gun (1971) Joe Bonham bed hospital doctors

His first love and sexual experience with his girlfriend Kareen (Kathy Fields). Interactions with his relationship with his loving Father (Jason Robards) who helps him discover who he is. Recalling memories of his kind Mother (Marsha Hunt) and mixed emotional experiences with work colleges and friends. Then there’s the spiritual side when he meets a baffled Jesus Christ, played incredibly by Donald Sutherland, who tries to figure things out and offer help but things might be over his head.

Johnny Got His Gun (1971) Joe Bonham Timothy Bottoms Kareen Kathy FieldsJohnny Got His Gun (1971) dreams visions jesus christ donald sutherlandJohnny Got His Gun (1971) Joe Bonham Timothy Bottoms Kareen Kathy Fields surreal flashback

All these scenes are cleverly played out in different filming styles, various contrasting effects are used. While all the hospital scenes are filmed in black and white, the dreams and conscience thoughts range from hazy soft focus, to crystal clear quality giving numerous states of clarity in his differing states of drugged or clear vision.

Johnny Got His Gun (1971) father Jason Robards) fishing rodJohnny Got His Gun (1971) flashback visions of death on front line world war 1

It’s a real human journey through pain, loss, love but also the horrific nature of the situation, anti-war messages and of course the spiritual nature of the dream like existence and reality. There’s way more to this film than I could ever portray over a few words and my limited vocabulary but I believe it is very much worth your time to hunt down this extremely intriguing and compelling film, maybe not on date night though!

Johnny Got His Gun (1971) Joe Bonham Timothy Bottoms Kareen Kathy Fields surreal flash back 2Johnny Got His Gun (1971) Joe Bonham Timothy Bottoms caring nurse bed scene near end

A few Wolfman observations

  • This is the one film that the legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo directed himself, Johnny Got His Gun is a near masterpiece and is based on Trumbo’s own novel he wrote back in 1939.
  • I have read but don’t know if this is true that Luis Buñuel (The Exterminating Angel) wrote the Jesus scenes for the film as he was original on board to direct the film in the 60’s. They definitely feel like they have his surreal signature to them?
  • Heavy metal band Metallica used footage from the film and based their song “One” entirely around the subject of the film as you can see on the YouTube video Metallica – One.
  • This is probably the most insane literature study of the film and book you could ever wish for. A mind boggling account analysis of everything. If you have a few hours spare and you want to know everything then please take a look at Spark Notes Study Guide, it’s truly incredible.

Johnny Got His Gun (1971) Joe Bonham Timothy Bottoms caring nurse surreal skeleton

Prepare yourself physically and mentally before you go in but my gosh it’s worth it. Let me know if you see it or have you seen it already? What did you think?

Keep searching for those wonderful films and enjoy the journeys. All the best… Mikey Wolfman

9 thoughts on “Johnny Got His Gun (1971) Jesus H Sutherland This Film Is FUBAR

  1. Never even heard of this one. Thanks for the introduction. This sounds like a very unique flick. Will have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes Maddy it’s unique indeed. One you really need to be ready for. Kind of wait for a day where everything has gone well and you really are feeling strangely way too happy than you are normally and you want to bring it down a notch to level yourself out. Then that’s the day to watch it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] On the good guys side you got Robert Forster from “Jackie Brown”, “Medium Cool” and recently “Twin Peaks” playing brave leader Captain Dan Holland. “The Dirty Dozen” and “Wild Bunch” legend Ernest Borgnine playing Harry Booth. And you got Norman Bates himself Anthony Perkins as Dr Alex Durant. Then there’s young Weena from “The Time Machine” Yvette Mimieux as Dr Kate McCrae. And young rookie Lieutenant Charles Pizer played by Joseph Bottoms who I don’t know his films but his brother Timothy Bottoms starred in the amazing Johnny Got His Gun […]

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  3. Watched it in 1972, at 17. As a French-Canadian, I felt very lucky not to be draftable in the Vietnam War and I thought I would never have to worry about that reality in my life. Since it was in a repertory film house it had to be a very specific day and, knowing the subject I begged anybody, even my English teacher at school to come watch it with me (I had complimentary tickets). At one point, I feared it would show the face and I couldnt have bared it but convinced myself, reasonably, that it would have killed the effect. Still, if I hadnt happened to be sitting in the middle of a row with the consequence of having to disturb a lot of people, I think I would have left some time in the middle of the film. But I’m very glad I watched it through

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow what a lovely story of your experience of the film to share Gilbert. It affected me even watching it only last year in my middle age. I can’t imagine what it must of felt like watching in your youth with the reality of the Vietnam war as a backdrop. Just that opening shot of the WW1 soldier surrounded by the 3 surgeons as they discuss the “damage” gives me shivers. The dream states as he wanders through differing visions whether drug induced or something higher is beautifully fascinating and surreal. It’s a film that I thought will stay with me forever and it seems like I was right in thinking that with your comment. Not seeing his face (what was left of it) was enough, you didn’t need to see anything as just the thought was terrifying in itself. Hehe if you weren’t sandwiched in between people you might of done a runner out the cinema 🙂
      Thank you so much for your wonderful comment, it was great to read. Much obliged.

      Liked by 1 person

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