Tuesday, September 8, 2009

M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970, USA) Surrounded by the madness and nihilistic demarcation of a bloody civil war, an eccentric group of draftees institute their own police action against the Establishment. Director Robert Altman’s paraxial condemnation is a farcical allusion to Vietnam cloaked in the framework of a less political blood clot known as the Korean War. The plot is not driven by a specific objective, but is fractured into vignettes composed of hilarious situations and characters, while a droll commentary stutters throughout the camp’s loudspeakers. The narrative focuses upon three doctors” Capt. “Hawkeye” Pierce, Capt. “Duke” Forrest and Capt. “Trapper” John McIntyre and follows their slow descent towards the lunatic fringe, hands deep in open chests and oozing guts of young men, while their mania keeps them sane. Altman smartly keeps the war off-screen but shows us the fruit of the poisonous tree in the forms of mangled young men, juxtaposed with foolishness and juvenile humor which creates an unbearable emotional tension: shouldn’t war be serious? Though the cast of characters is composed of grand caricatures and quirky irreverence, each is somehow composed of individualistic ideals and expressions adding depth to the story. Altman’s idiomatic use of overlapping dialogue and slow zooms once again brings the fiction closer to truth, though we may wish to expunge this dreaded knowledge from our consciousness…much like the doctors who live trauma day after day. MASH is the rare anti-war film that doesn’t depict the violence, only the sanguine byproduct of our apple pie morality. The mayhem is associated with the derisive rift between the draftees and enlisted wo/men, a form of civil war between the very soldiers sent off to this foreign land impressed with the same olive drab values. The final act tackles this subject with an inter-army football game where each team conscripts their own ringer, an apt metaphor concerning the Korean & Vietnam War where each country has its ace in the hole, where honor and rules are depicted as the dogma of losers, and cheating is rewarded with victory. But the celebration for the 4077 is short lived, as the sight of a shrouded corpse reminds us that their home is an abattoir. The cure to this bitter malady of inhumane hostility is humor: after all, suicide may be painless but laughter is the best medicine. (B+)

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