Robert Altman’s successful film, MASH, is praised for its well-done satirical outlook on the Vietnam War. Using the Korean War as a cloak over its direct criticism of the Vietnam War, MASH is a comedic commentary on the absurdity of war. The men of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital appose authority and conformity whenever possible. The film was an achievement due to its groundbreaking take on American Warfare. It was one of the first American films to criticize war and religion, two staples of the American identity during the Cold War era. The idolized protagonists, Hawkeye, Duke and Trapper’s, complete disregard for their superiors and army laws were far from common place in a war film. Not only that, but the two characters, Burns and Houlihan, that sought for conformity and order in the army camp were ostracized and ridiculed. Serious topics like religion, war, death, gore and infidelity were handled with little care and blatantly painted in a comical light. Americans, especially during the Cold War era, took war very seriously and to have a film so successful outwardly mocking war was telling. Altman’s film showed the growing opposition of conformity, violence and authority in the 1960’s. This film was so important because it gave the unorthodox a voice and shied away from the black and white picture the early Cold War painted for the American people.
There were three major connections to classThe first connection dealt with The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Williams believed that America invaded foreign countries in order to spread their dominance rather than to help democratize the country. This is significant to MASH because it is interesting that a movie created around the same time as the Vietnam War does not make much mention of Anti-war sentiments but rather it tries to avoid the subject. This could be due to the American public beginning to share Williams’ view of America spreading an empire rather than helping others. The next subject covered was the making fun of the military bureaucracy. Colonel Blake and General Hammond both seem disinterested in their respective posts and actually rather incompetent at performing their duties. This is comparable to the movie Dr. Strangelove, where the government officials are all rather incompetent as well.
The last connection dealt with the small subtle hints at Anti-War sentiment. There were three situations of this. The first of which dealt with a conversation between Hot Lips and Trapper John. It is significant because it’s the first time there is any real mention of the war affecting the soldiers. The second hint was when Ho-Jon went for his physical and Hawkeye, we assume, actively tried to keep him out of the army. The last hint was when Hawkeye and Duke get their discharge papers and get out of the base as fast as they can, Duke tried to leave before finishing a surgery.
The film clip we used was when Painless tries to commit suicide. We believed that this best represented the overall feel of the movie, and gave the class a glimpse at the type of things the camp would do to keep their minds occupied.
We asked the question, “Why did this movie seem to ignore, or brush aside, the fact that they were at war?” The class discussed how this may have been because of the overall feel the public had for Vietnam. We also discussed how although there may have been discontent for the war, it was still not okay for a film to talk bad about a war they were currently engaged in.
Destructing MASH (1970) TDYF.com
What's the big Deal? MASH (1970) www.film.com BY: Eric D. Snider
MASH (`1970) www.nytimes.com BY: Roger Greenspun
1. Dr. Strangelove
2. MASH film
3. Williams, William Appleman. The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Rev. and Enl. ed. New York: Dell Pub., 1962. Print.