A thoroughly despicable picture from start to finish!
Screenplay By: Ring Lardner Jr.
Directed By: Robert Altman
I have heard the argument that MASH is a film about how men will do anything to cope with war and that we should be okay with that. I don’t agree with that argument for a second, at least as it relates to the film. MASH takes sides, it says, one way of coping is okay and any other way isn’t. If you are a prick and an asshole the camera will lovingly capture you, the director will show you off as a great hero. However, if you happen to try to cope with war through religion or through diving into the military lifestyle the camera will hate you, showing you in a bad light and constantly humiliating you. There are only two options in MASH, either you hang with the cool kids and are a despicable human being, or you go against the grain and are viewed as a piece of shit.
In case the above wasn’t clue enough, I hated MASH with every fiber of my being. I have this weird compunction where I want my black comedies to be funny, not a series of random events and shots that I could care less about. Throughout the entire run time of MASH I didn’t crack a single smile, nor did I laugh once. It wasn’t because of the subject matter, no, despite the serious nature of the world the characters inhabit, MASH is meant to be a dark comedy. But, it isn’t funny, not for a second.
I believe the lack of humor in MASH comes down to the characters, at least the leads, and how thoroughly despicable they are. I’m supposed to find it funny that Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke spend their entire existence tormenting everyone around them? I’m supposed to find it funny that you can only cope with war if you act like the the three leads? I didn’t find them funny, and as previously stated I didn’t find MASH funny in any way. The three of them are assholes, and the movie revels in this, trying to treat them as some sort of counter culture heroes. Being counter culture doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole and treat everyone around you like shit. Being an anti-hero doesn’t mean you have to be a prick to everyone you see.
The above creates a scenario where any time the movie tries for actual pathos I just didn’t care. I haven’t been given any characters to care about, a setting to care about, anything to care about. Because I have nothing to care about, why should I care about the lame attempts at emotion and pathos? Maybe other people did, but I need a reason to care, being presented with a soldier dying isn’t good enough for me in a movie, I need context and I need something, anything to care about.
I have realized through my ventures into his films that I’m not that big on Robert Altman. MASH is the worst I have seen from him, but the rest haven’t been any better than good. I realize this is a highly unpopular opinion, and it’s not that he isn’t talented or without skill. I find his style unappealing and I don’t feel any connection to his characters or to the worlds he tries to create. MASH being the worst I have seen from Altman to this point is the best example of my failure to connect with what he puts on the screen. But, MASH goes beyond a failure to connect, it reaches a level where I hated every second of it and the distance between myself and the movie only grew as the seconds ticked by.
Characters don’t have to be nice, but I don’t have much time for movies that try to glorify or present hideous characters as heroic. A movie like Very Bad Things acknowledges that its characters are terrible human beings, it doesn’t try to present them as anything but that. MASH is the opposite, its characters are terrible human beings, but Altman wants to present them as heroes, as people to revel with. Even though most people will disagree, avoid MASH at all costs, it is a terrible movie about reprehensible people and not worth the time required to watch the first scene, let alone the whole movie.