Born on the 4th of July begins in the early 1960s with footage of John F. Kennedy on the television saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
The first part of the movie happens entirely in Massapequa, New York between the late 1950s and 1964. It traces the childhood of Kovic, who grows up in a fiercely patriot household. His parents are fierce supporters of the country and devout Roman Catholics. Kovic was inspired by a Marine to sign up and leave for Vietnam leaving his family and girlfriend Donna behind. This segment of the movie is filmed by Stone with an abundance of nostalgic elements. Click here for more information. The lighting and colors hint at a time-clouded innocence. The style, which evokes Capra, is overly romantic. The director is setting us up in order for what comes after to have maximum impact.
This is a guest post by Henry Wayne, a movie critic who has read various article such as Doctor of Osteopathy and also comments regularly on different topics like Surgical Instruments and Celtic Insurance. He is passionate about his field of work. His views are clearly noted here although they are not necessarily reflective of the views of this site’s owners.
The “in country” portion of the film picks up the action in October 1968, when Kovic, now a sergeant and well-respected member of his platoon, is in his second tour of duty. While on patrol, an error in the received intelligence leads to a civilian massacre, and Kovic is shaken. During the retreat, he mistakes one of his men for an enemy and accidentally kills him. The XO exonerates Kovic, ignoring his claims of “friendly fire,” and informs the sergeant that things like this happen in the confusion of battle. Three months later, Kovic is seriously wounded in another engagement – an incident that ends his battlefield involvement in the war. The directors approach to the fight segments in Born on the Fourth of July are similar to those in Platoon – short, brutal, and unflinching. He is more interested in showing the bloody, inglorious elements of war as opposed to those promoted in military recruiting films. More information would be revealed through this website.
The most puzzling part of the film is during Kovic’s rehab at the Bronx V.A. hospital. It show the deplorable conditions in government-run facilities established to treat injured soldiers. Kovic tries to keep a positive mental attitude even if he was paralyzed from the waist down. He became obsessive about rehabbing, despite his surroundings. Drugs are rampant in the hospital, rats wander freely (one patient is advised to feed them to keep them happy), and the equipment is old. When Kovic falls and fractures his leg, he must undergo a long and torturous treatment to avoid amputation. Eventually, he leaves the hospital and returns to Massapequa, where he is hailed as a hero.
Born on the Fourth of July’s final hour is devoted Kovic’s change from war-supporter to rabid anti-war activist. I believe this part is the directors least effective. Kovic?s transformation seems to be hurried and incomplete. When Kovic returned home he defended and approved of the war. It is only after attending an anti-war rally that he changes his position. Once he has become a war protester, Born on the Fourth of July plays like a “greatest hits” collection, recounting key points in Kovic’s life between 1970 and 1976, but losing some of the character in the process.
The thing best accomplished by Born on the Fourth of July is its contrasting of the glorious illusion of war as seen from thousands of miles away to the barbarity of it up-close. Kovic’s change in perspective becomes the filter through which we view Vietnam. His gradual disillusionment with the government and the military is given weight because of events in his life. He is credible because he has been involved in activities that many pro-war and anti-war activists have seen only from afar. The only thing missing from Born on the Fourth of July is a more complete accounting of Kovic’s shift in perspective.
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