Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)

Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), directed by George Roy Hill.

Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time, constantly jumping back and forth along his own timeline.

Sometimes he's an earnest, somewhat dim soldier captured by the Germans in WW2, then a successful optometrist who, after a head injury from a plane crash, begins writing up the whole story.

The happiest part of his life is the time -- after being kidnapped by aliens -- he spends on the planet Tralfamadore where he is placed on exhibit. Later they provide him with a human woman for mating: sexy actress Montana Wildhack. After a difficult but brief adjustment period they fall in love and have a child. She's the only one who understands about his time traveling.

He has visited the moment of his death many times and it no longer troubles him. He accepts the Tralfamadorian perspective. They see Time as an actual fourth dimension, making all of space-time fixed and inalterable. This goes beyond fatalism ("whatever is going to happen is going to happen") to a recognition that what happened in the past is always happening, as is what will happen in the future. It's all always "now".

Which is a sort of realization of eternity beyond time, made to conform to Vonnegut's customary view of the absurd, pointlessly tragic nature of life. I think the movie represents the book pretty well -- and the author was pleased with it -- but I read it just recently and don't know if someone who hadn't would get as much from it. The film gets the mood right.

The book is "semi-autobiographical" in that Vonnegut witnessed the firebombing of Dresden as a POW. He said that he was not Billy Pilgrim, but that he tried and failed to write about Dresden for many years, but finally could only write about Billy Pilgrim, who had become unstuck in time... He gives the number of fatalities at Dresden as 135,000, making it worse than Hiroshima. The modern estimate is more like 25,000.

Kudos to Valerie Perrine for being comically topless in 1972. When first arriving on Tralfamadore she panics and wrestles Billy to the ground. (Aside: That might be an interesting study: "Comical Nudity in Film". You get both arousal from sex and release by laughter, an alternative to actual sex. Was that the point of old burlesque shows? Maybe begin the project with 19-year-old Hedy Lamarr in Ecstasy (1933): skinny-dipping one night, her horse runs off with her clothes. Come the dawn she is running from bush to bush).

Score by Glenn Gould, playing Bach.

Available on DVD.