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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.
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.
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