Sunday, February 26, 2012

Walking down to Bellingham Bay / Thinking about Luis Bunuel and Dalton Trumbo

Johnny Got His Gun and Dalton Trumbo are still on my mind. After re-reading Johnny Got His Gun, for the first time since Richard recommended it while he was in Vietnam in 1970, I've been checking out related DVDs from the public library. A few days ago, I watched "Trumbo"(2007) and was reminded that Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplays for "Exodus" and "Spartacus." Yesterday I watched "Johnny Got His Gun" on DVD. Although it was first released in 1971, this DVD with additional features was released in 2009. I don't remember seeing "Johnny Got His Gun" when it was released on September 22, 1971, but I am guessing that Richard did see it.

Richard's last weeks of life in a VA hospital in spring of 2008 appeared to be much like those of Joe Bonham in Dalton Trumbo's 1971 film, "Johnny Got His Gun."

In 1971, when Dalton Trumbo directed "Johnny Got His Gun," he added to and changed the story from what he had written in his book in 1939. Scenes with Joe Bonham's contemplations on Jesus were written by Luis Bunuel.

Of all the changes and additions that strengthened an already powerful testament against war, what stood out for me was the scene near the end of the film where the military hospital doctors and staff were standing at Joe Bonham's bedside after Joe had finally been able to communicate with them by banging his head on his pillow in Morse code, "S.O.S. Help me." The commanding officer had asked Joe what he wanted, and Joe had replied, and the commanding officer had denied Joe's requests. At that point, Joe began to bang his head against his pillow, saying "Kill me" over and over again in Morse code.

The commanding officer then turned to the chaplain and said, "Don't you have some message for him, Padre?"

The priest shook his head.

The officer said, "You could at least tell him to put his faith in God, couldn't you?"

The priest said, "I will pray for him for the rest of my days, but I will not risk testing his faith against your stupidity."

The officer said, "Well, you're a hell of a priest, aren't you?"

The priest said, "He is a product of your profession, not mine," and walked out of the hospital room.

Now that is a mysterious statement. The koan here is, "What is the product of the priest's profession?" Certainly Dalton Trumbo had given some thought to that when he wrote that scene and asked Luis Bunuel to write words for Jesus to say earlier in the film.

The two following paragraphs are from a Wikipedia article about Luis Bunuel:

In a 1960 interview with Michele Manceaux in L'Express, Buñuel famously declared: "Thank God I'm an atheist."

However, he repudiated this statement in a 1977 article in The New Yorker. "I'm not a Christian, but I'm not an atheist, either," he said. "I'm weary of hearing that accidental old aphorism of mine, 'I'm an atheist, thank God.' It's outworn. Dead leaves. In 1951, I made a small film called "Mexican Bus Ride," about a village too poor to support a church and a priest. The place was serene, because no one suffered from guilt. It's guilt we must escape from, not God."

I'm feeling Richard's serene presence today. It is nearly four years since he died. We are not suffering from guilt. We are too poor to support a church and a priest. We do not walk alone anymore. I think that the word God is a koan.


Unknown said...

your posts enlighten me.
i think that i shall be just like you in 25 years.
i hope so.

am said...

Thank you for your kind comment, Nicole. I love where ideas and experience intersect, and I love writing about that intersection. Twenty-five years ago, I never dreamed that there would be something like the internet, with so many opportunities for people all over the world to be mutually enlightened by each other's ideas and experiences.

Anonymous said...

great photos to go with these ideas. i need to see the film, though i did watch a documentary on DT brought to mind the horrors of the blacklisting and the mccarthy era. i worry segments of our population would love to have joe back. kjm

am said...

Thank you, kjm.

Dalton Trumbo put his mind and his heart into the filming of "Johnny Got His Gun." I like what Roger Ebert said about the film:

"Instead of belaboring ironic points about the "war to end war," Trumbo remains stubbornly on the human level."

That is why the film works for me.