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Coming Home, Directed by Hal Ashby

United Artists, February 15, 1978 (US)

Screenplay: Waldo Salt, Robert C. Jones, and Nancy Dowd, based on the novel by George Davis

Starring: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern, Penelope Milford, Robert Carradine, Robert Ginty, Mary Gregory, Kathleen Miller, Beeson Carroll, Willie Tyler, Louis Carello, Charles Cyphers, Olivia Cole, Tresa Hughes, and Bruce French

Luke Martin (Jon Voight): I have killed for my country, or whatever, and I don’t feel good about it. Coz there’s not enough reason, man, to feel a person die in your hands, or to see your best buddy get blown away.

Funny thing compassion. You either have it or you don’t. Either feel pain or ignore it. Give it out or receive it. It can’t be learned. Can’t be taught. Can’t be bought with wallets stuffed with empty credit cards. No reason why. You had it once but now it’s gone. Lost forever when your puppy was run over by a garbage truck. Flushed away after the only person who you ever loved left you broken and alone not even saying goodbye. You grew up to hate (it’s a simple thing). Hate other people (even the same color). Hate your job. Hate the sad, pressed-but-wrinkled clothes you wear. Dirty ugly street you live on. Could be you never, ever, had compassion at all. You were the one who threw sacks of kittens in the river. Broke the faces of little effeminate boys. Set fires to houses and barns and acres of fields. Perhaps you were just born a big, dark blank. Had a face, but it was empty. Eyes like dead fish. A heart just as jet and cold as the hollow black between a thousand suns. Yes, tricky thing compassion. Strange rotten fruit human beings. Turn your back and they’ll stick a shiny knife into it every time. Gut out your insides for sure.

It’s hard not to forget (I’m trying not to forget) just how poignant this film was when it first came out. Jane Fonda making love to a paraplegic? Bruce Dern stripping off his uniform (and country) and swimming naked out to die in the sea? Vietnam was a dirty hangover. A bad trip. A small but highly annoying piece of shrapnel in the knee. You were just not allowed to lose. Not allowed to weep. Shut up and stop marching, Jane. We are the young un-Americans.

I was obsessed with Vietnam. Wrote bad poetry about it: Yellow, Yellow Die! Die / There is no reason why! Listened to Hair over and over on my record player. Even bought the play script and memorized the words (“we starve look, at one and other short of breath”). My brother and I had MIA bracelets. Looked the names up on a monthly basis. We watched Woodstock and The Green Berets. Only problem was, Vietnam was over. We had missed the revolution. The helicopters had left. But nonetheless it was the first time we started being critical about the world around us. The first time we questioned what we were told. We had no clue what was going on but we said no anyway. Later, this film came out, as did many others on the subject. The Deerhunter, Apocalypse Now. All of which moved me, but none so much as this one.

Which, above all, is a film about compassion. How human beings can love and care and take care of each other even amidst the wreckage of war, of those lost at war, those left behind, those scarred forever by the horrible hate that one sad individual inflicts upon another human being. I still don’t get it. The human race. War. It’s an ancient theme. Old as the hills. Forever on the lunch menu next Thursday at 12:00 (kids eat for free) and a thousand million years beyond. Killing. Hating. Dying. Sometimes we even get a kick out of the pain. But more so giving it. Somebody always gets hurt and it’s almost certain it’ll be you. Our hearts are full of hot napalm. And we’re one sad mother Fo. But sometimes we give out love, too. We hold on to each other and wipe away the tears. Make love to get rid of the pain. What else can we do? And if you think it’s wrong, the killing and pain (and I still do), then you better say so. Speak out. Just name the country. Name the time of year. The emperor has no clothes. Keep marching Jane. I have a dream. Shed the uniform. Shed your nation. Swim out to the sea. She’s cool and she’s naked and she doesn’t care one windy fuck where you come from, man. Her arms are bigger than the blackest heart and she’s strong as a twirling blue orb. So strong in fact she’ll take you home.