MASH (1970) Film Review

Rating 15
Length 1h56
Release 11.6.1970
Director Robert Altman
About The MASH unit makes use of humour and elaborate pranks to cope with the horrors of war and the stress that comes with performing surgeries.
Moon: Waxing Gibbous near the start of the film
Where to Watch: Disney Plus

The Good

  • Robert Altman is a magnificent artist. His naturalist style of filmmaking gives the audience a sense of realism and intimacy with the lives they watch unfold. My favourite part is the over-talk that happens all the way through.
  • I adore how we’re introduced to Donald Sutherland’s Hawkeye. No dialogue, except for the white noise of background artists. This is a film that is not afraid of leaving scenes without dialogue to guide the audience. I found it much more informative to see Hawkeye walking towards us.
  • Some of the odd-ball comedy does work for me. I adore Rene Auberjonois’ (bonus points for this film teaching me how to pronounce the man’s surname) character seen blessing the jeep towards the end of the movie.

The Bad

  • The initial sexual harassment of O’Houlihan is bad. It’s as bad, if not worse than some of the other things that go on to happen. The only reason why I’m placing it here, is the fact that the film goes on to have O’Houlihan write a formal complaint regarding McIntyre’s insistence that she’s brought to him in order to have sex.
  • The drugging and essential rape of a commanding officer toward the end of the movie is hard to take. Hawkeye and McIntyre are not as harmless and boyish as the film likes to think and this is the perfect example. Upon being arrested by military police for not following orders, they drug the man, take him to a brothel and photograph him with a prostitute. This is not okay and while its only implied, the psychological damage is tantamount to sexual assualt.

The Ugly

  • O’Houlihan’s accusation is not taken seriously. In fact, we see the harassment of her result in her sexual encounter being broadcast across the whole basecamp, gaining the nickname ‘Hot Lips’ and spied on in the shower by both men and women.
    All of this, for me, is bad enough. However the film does the unforgivable and has the high ranking officer, who is dealing with the incident, say “You mean Hot Lips? Screw her.” I mean, what the actual fuck?? This sort of shit is exactly why women didn’t come forward!
  • The story-arc of Painless is, well, far from it. It’s horrific in execution, dialogue and implication. Painless goes to Hawkeye in confidence about his sexuality: “I’ve turned into a fairy,” Painless declares, before describing his ‘affliction’. before the audience knows it, Hawkeye is sharing the information with everyone and Painless makes it know that he intends to commit suicide and asks for advice.
    The decision is made that he will use a ‘black pill’ and the audience are subjected to a visual ‘Last Supper’ before Painless takes the pill and climbs into a coffin. I’m horrified enough at this, but what comes next chills me to the bone. Hawkeye makes his departing ‘piece of action’ to “bring Painless back to life”. Yes, Hawkeye pimps out his girl and gets her to perform what ever sexual act on the unconscious Painless.
    Not only is this a form of sexual coercion on the part of Hawkeye, depending on what the woman did, it is also rape of Painless. The connotations of conversion therapy are not lost on me either and I am uncomfortable that this was used as comedy. Yes, its of its time, but I don’t see that as enough of an excuse.

Final Thoughts

Film making wise, its an incredible look at some rarely used styles. However, plot and content does fit well for modern day audiences and raise some concerns about previous generations.

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