This is one of those classic anti-war movies – in this case based on the classic anti-war novel of the same name by Joseph Heller.
I’m pretty sure I have a copy of the novel, printed as the 1970 movie tie-in, in my library somewhere, but I haven’t read that or seen the movie, so this seemed like an ideal Red Envelope Farewell movie.
The first aspect I noticed about the film is the fantastic cast. Besides the recently departed Alan Arkin, who delivers a wonderfully truthful performance in this unreal film, we have Bob Newhart, Bob Balaban, Charles Grodin, Jon Voight, Martin Balsam, Martin Sheen, Richard Benjamin, Tony Perkins, Orson Welles, and Art Garfunkel, for crying out loud.
This film has a great vision, great craft, and appeals to the absurdist theater practitioner in me. If you are ready for the uncomfortably bizarre scenes played as straight as a level, you may be up for this movie. The exemplary scene, one of my favorites, would probably be where Yossarian is asked to jump into bed and pretend to be a dead soldier so his entire immediate family, who inexplicably have made the trip all the way to Europe, can see him one last time. Yossarian doesn’t even pretend to be the dead soldier in question and yet the family just accept it, as if his denial of identity is some phase of his ailment.
I also enjoyed the growing, increasingly presence of M&M Enterprises as a herald of corporate dystopia. In fact, my favorite scene is where Jon Voight’s unctuous lieutenant tries to convince Yossarian that chocolate covered cotton is better than cotton candy because it’s real cotton. It reminds me of all the real-life cockamamie schemes of modern tech bros.
After all these plaudits, you may be surprised to find I didn’t like the movie too much and suspect many a person will find it hard to like as well. I found the film too distant, the pacing too dang slow, and the tone too grim. Maybe the film hasn’t aged well, but I rather think the right time for me to see this film has come and gone Three stars out of five. Had I seen this in college or high school, I’d likely give it four stars or even five. I was more comfortable with an absurdist existence then. I’m sure Yossarian would have a quip about that.