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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Anybody Got the Time?


Plot Overview

We open in medias res, current day (circa March of 1968) for the (1972) film release, on a young couple frantically searching (“I'm sure he's all right”) a (“He should not be left alone …”) large lake­side house. The man they are looking for, the main character Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks), is busy typing a letter to the editor. It reads: “I have come unstuck in time. I jump back and forth in my life.” The scene changes in flash­back to a war movie setting of German armor and troops, then back to the type­writer: “I have no control over where I'm going to go next.” Fast forward to the future, a Sci-Fi setting, the planet Tral­fam­adore, where a lovely lady Montana Wild­hack (Valerie Perrine) tries to comfort Billy over his time-tripping.

The plot picks up again at the Battle of the Bulge where Pilgrim has trouble passing his shibboleth. He's "rescued" by the Germans to become a POW. The plot thickens with peripatetics we can sort out only by watching the entire film to the end, discovering: He's trans­ported with other prisoners to the “safe” city of Dresden. He's there when it gets creamed by the Brits. He survives but his comrade doesn't. After the Yanks win the war, he comes home to get electro­shock treatment in the vets hospital. He marries a desperate dame whose father pegs him as a loser. However, he succeeds as a family man and as an optometrist until a plane crash kills his father-in-law and his co-workers while he him­self is thrown free. His wife dies the same day in a separate accident. He is corrected about Dresden by a clue­less historian in the adjacent hospital bed. He's released to go home to an empty house where his daughter Barbara (Holly Near) and her husband worry about him. When they find him, he assures them he's doing fine though he's unstuck in time and living on the planet Tral­fam­adore with his movie idol Montana Wild­hack. It sounds like he's really become unhinged—who can blame him?—but Barbara remarks that isn't Montana that actress who disap­peared? On that ambiguous note and with some Sci-Fi mumbo jumbo thrown in, the lights come back on and the movie ends.


The movie closely follows a section of Proverbs in the Bible, to wit: (Prov. 15:10) “Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die.” His wife Valencia Merble Pilgrim (Sharon Gans) in her mad dash to the hospital (“I'm coming, Billy!”) drives the wrong way on the free­way and disregards the advice from another motorist she ran into about the unsafe condition of her trashed Cadillac.

     (Prov. 15:11) “Hell and destruction are before the LORD: how much more then the hearts of the children of men?” The fire­bombing of Dresden is about the most hellish earthly tableau imaginable. If God sees all that, then certainly He sees the hearts of all the people.

     (Prov. 15:12) “A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise.” A hapless prisoner that Pilgrim bumped in the procession blames him for his failing health and won't be set to rights.

     (Prov. 15:13) “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” Billy is beaming with happiness when he's with Montana, but when he was married to Valencia, she caused him a world of sorrows. In fact since the Tralfamadorians cheered wildly at a marriage mile­stone with the pretty lady, we can take this as an illustration of God wanting marriages to be happy and gay, i.e., (Eccl. 9:9) “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy life.” Since this is a heavenly template for something Valencia could never quite live up to despite her repeated promises, it might also be considered a round­about answer to Billy's prayer: “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” God's template in heaven is of a gay marriage that perhaps needs prayer to manifest on Earth.

“Slaughterhouse-Five” contains a built-in language tutorial applicable to the correct usage(s) of gay. During WW II that term wasn't used to refer to homos, but we see them there called faggots or fags. Billy's bright attire the krauts gave him as a joke could be termed gay, meaning brightly colored. The British cheerful greeting at the camp (“The Yanks are Here”) could be called gay, it was a happy one. Billy's son's wild behavior of tipping over tomb­stones was oh, so gay, of a different sort. In fact the bombing of a civilian population was licentious, that kind of "gay." What happened to the language follows the course of Eccl. 4:13-14, where a word gay that had been imprisoned in some unseemly usages in the 1940s aged with the language to dominate as a politically correct term for homo­sexual, but the earlier uses of gay have slid into poor currency. Never­the­less those earlier usages are still valid, especially if wisely applied, while news­papers, say, who won't properly contextualize "gay and lesbian marriages" take a short­cut to call them "gay marriages," whose conjoined words more naturally apply to marriages that are happy.

     (Prov. 15:14) “The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.” Pilgrim was coached by a (trade-) school­teacher in the Army. In the hospital an aspiring author spouted out nonsense about the war.

     (Prov. 15:15) “All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” The Russian side of prison camp Schlachthos-Funf was pretty glum, but the Allies were quite jolly.

     (Prov. 15:16) “Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith.” We see it's better not to pilfer—it's contrary to the strict rule—when disposing of the dead, even when a great treasure is discovered.

     (Prov. 15:17) “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred there­with.” A bowl of soup with comradely prisoners was better than a feast with a nagging wife.

     (Prov. 15:18) “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” Prisoner Paul Lazzaro (Ron Leibman) picked fights with any­one that caught his attention, but Billy Pilgrim worked at appeasing conflicts.

Production Values

“Slaughterhouse-Five” (1972) was directed by George Roy Hill. It is based on Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse Five, also known as The Children's Crusade. Stephen Geller wrote the screen­play. It stars Michael Sacks whose per­for­mance was a little dry, but that could be attributed to his character's mental state. His supporting cast came through just fine. The story is a hodge­podge of suburban drama, war flick, and Sci-Fi, which a modern media-astute audience can handle better than the 1970s one. I first saw it in the early 1980s and then more recently the other day. We've gotten used to being bombarded by disparate media by now, so should be able to handle the jumps better.

It was filmed partly in Prague, Czechoslovakia, as a stand-in for Dresden. MPAA rated it R. It has an aspect ratio of 1.85 : 1. The musical score of composer Glenn Gould is a perfect blend of Classical and Show Tunes. Cinema­tog­rapher Miroslav Ondricek did a fine job, and the editing of Dede Allen was matchless, especially considering the challenges of a jumpy plot progression. Its editing moves seamlessly among the eras forward and back. Sci-Fi special effects are low-budget but they work.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I was captivated by this movie. The war scenes were easy to piece together. The domestic scenes could be fit into sequence by observing the growth of the puppy Spot into an old dog, and the maturing of the two children into adults, while the main character's wife maintained her same figure through­out, her promises to diet not­with­standing. In the book the Tralfamadorians resembled toilet plungers, but the director of the movie wisely left them out of view in the fourth dimension, so all we got of them was their voices, cheers, and fire­works—though, thank God, not the grand finale. It's not that the movie doesn't have a satisfying ending, but it does leave one wondering just what it was he witnessed. If this is your cup of tea, be my guest.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.