Top 100 Movie Review: #56 – MASH (1970)

A Black Comedy That Isn’t Funny.

Everyone in MASH comes across as cruel, not humorous.

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American Film Institute’s Ranking: #56/100
Awards: Nominated for five Academy Awards winning for Best Adapted Screenplay.
My Rating: Star

Here’s some avant garde stream of consciousness for you.

War is horrifying. To participate and survive, people must cope. Some people do so by adhering to procedure and military culture. Others become self-destructive, running to drugs and alcohol. Then there are some that become unabashedly cruel. They live out crude and misogynistic lives to deal with the mangled bodies.

That last group is the focal point of Robert Altman’s MASH. We are supposed to sympathize and laugh because they aren’t doing this out of free will. In the words of Roger Ebert:

“Most comedies want us to laugh at things that aren’t really funny; in this one we laugh precisely because they’re not funny. We laugh, that we may not cry.”

Ebert’s take is ridiculous because we have nothing to cry about. The characters don’t become conduits for the horror of war because they are so deeply unlikeable. We don’t relate to them; we want to get as far away from them as possible.

To make matters worse, the director, following the new Hollywood template of hippie bullshit, created an episodic story where nothing matters, connects, or coalesces. Trying to pull the strands together in this one is intentionally made impossible.

It’s purposefully inscrutable because that’s all it has to offer: nonsense.

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