Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • TBC
  • Drama, War
  • 1971
  • 111 mins

Johnny Got His Gun

Johnny Got His Gun


Blacklisted during the McCarthy witch-hunts, director Trumbo resurfaced to direct - based on his own novel - the story of a soldier who loses every faculty, except his reason, after being hit by a shell


A young American soldier Johnny (Bottoms) hit by a shell on the last day of the First World War, lies in a hospital bed, a quadruple amputee who has lost his eyes, ears, mouth and nose. His only means of communication is by banging his head against his pillow.

Despite such inertia, writer-director Trumbo (who wrote Spartacus for Kubrick) nevertheless gets inside his head by means of a series of flashbacks and fantasy sequences: we learn about Johnny's failed shoe salesman father, his first (and last) night with the woman he loves; his pre-war job in the local bakery. There's also a strangely moving monologue with Jesus Christ (Sutherland).

What's it all about? Well it's a damning indictment of war, obviously, and a strange one at that. But it's also a metaphysical examination of what it is to be human - the absence of limbs and features in no way extinguishes Johnny's imperishable humanity - and in this case the mind definitely rules the body rather than vice versa.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Donald Sutherland, Timothy Bottoms, Marsha Hunt, Charles McGraw, Jason Robards, Diane Varsi
  • Director: Dalton Trumbo
  • Writer: Dalton Trumbo
  • Producer: Bruce Campbell
  • Photographer: Jules Brenner
  • Composer: Jerry Fielding

In a nutshell

Bizarrely, the story is based on real events, and while this kind of truth is usually too strange to be turned into fiction, Trumbo successfully turns Johnny into the living embodiment of the horror and futility of war - but also of the unquenchable resilience of the human spirit.

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    Thunder Island

    Thriller. A hit man (Gene Nelson) is hired to kill a former Caribbean dictator. He abducts a couple and their boat to reach the despot's island, but then his plans go badly wrong.

    On Film4: 6 Oct 11:00AM

  • Film4

    The Enchanted Forest

    An old man raises a young boy who became lost in the woods, teaching him about life and nature

    On Film4: 5 Oct 11:00AM

  • Channel 4 Blog

    TIFF: five favourites

    Elena Lazic reports from the Toronto International Film festival on her five favourites of the fest. The Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos' success in realising the usually disastrous combination of farci

  • Channel 4 Blog

    TIFF: five favourites

    Manuela Lazic reports from the Toronto International Film Festival on five favourites from the fest. The Witch What if the sorceresses and deadly spells in which people believed so fervently in th

Register with

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register