Heller's wild masterpiece took seven years to rewrite; Nichols catches some of its finely-balanced insanity-&-logic in its hero, Yossarian, who doesn't want to fly any more missions over Italy because he could die. When he claims insanity so he can get out, Dr. Daneeka explains: Only a crazy person would want to fly missions; Yossarian doesn't want to, so he's sane. Everything is crazy because it makes sense, Such illogic informs the story, but for viewers who don't know the book, the term "Catch-22" and passages from the book are unexplained.
This film's humanist statement is against war, but for Heller, WWII symbolized more: life. Yossarian is afraid to die; everyone is. He doesn't want to fly more missions; we have ours. Yossarian wants out of the Air Corps; we want to be immortal. But to get out of the Air Corps, or to stop time, you must be insane; whoever wants out is sane. Heller's truly horrifying truth is that we're all trapped; there's no escaping life or death. Nichols boils that down to the message that war is hell. Of the film's two parts, the first is funny, with caricature and burlesque a la Sgt. Bilko: officers are buffoons, or lack integrity. In the second half, blood, guts, and bodies show that war causes suffering and is stupid. But that's true even if officers are ethical and smart. The lead, Yossarian (Arkin, a highly gifted actor), is a tense, paranoid victim, nearly crazy; he squints, grits his teeth, sweats, and shakes. But the point should be that he ISN'T nuts; that a sane man can know war and the Air Corps are crazy, that everyone is.
The latter half of the movie is too serious, with increasing gloom, speeches on life and death, and a horrifying moment when Yossarian turns his bombardier over as the man's intestines fall out. We squirm; gore is repulsive; we get the message that young people shouldn't die in war.
The ending could also be better. Yossarian faces court-martial if he leaves the Air Corps, or a hero's medal if he stays. He can't decide; not even Chaplain Tappman (Perkins) can help. Yossarian jumps out a window, runs to a beach, and paddles a raft toward Sweden. But he isn't insane. After a funny start and intense middle, the film uses an escapist ending to avoid painful questions. In many good moments, it offers strong statements about "friendly fire," and about a man sent capriciously to his execution.
based on the book by Joseph Heller
Alan Arkin, Art Garfunkel, Orson Welles, Martin Balsam, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins
Joseph Heller; ineptitude in the armed services
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