The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor and high jinks to keep their sanity in the face of the horror of war.
MASH is one of those films that was always on my list of “Films to watch”. I just never got around to it until now.
A common occurrence, I have found, when I watch a film directed by Robert Altman is that I get very sleepy. I don’t mean that in a rude way. Altman’s entire film style is to have people talk over one another, as they do in real life. So, at any given time, there can be three conversations happening at once. I tend to find it harder to focus when this happens, and find myself getting bored and tired. However, that does not mean that the films aren’t particularly good. Just the contrary, actually.
MASH’s opening titles stay with you. The theme song (that would also become the theme song for the television show) is playing with lyrics that don’t really seem to make too much sense. What the audience does continuously hear is the line “Suicide is painless”, while we have visuals of helicopters flying in injured soldiers during the Korean war. It strikes an emotional chord. It did in me, at least.
Now, I say the Korean War because that is what is given to us in the opening titles. However, anybody that watches this film would see that it is an anti-war commentary for the war in Vietnam. That war was going on during the time of filming and releasing of MASH. You can easily substitute anything about Korea out for Vietnam in this film, and you’ll get the message.
I have always found black comedies to be an interesting way to tell a story or get a message across, solely because black comedies are comprised of things and moments that shouldn’t be laughable. But, those moments are presented in a humorous way. The best example I can think of is the is the entire suicide sequence in MASH. Obviously, suicide isn’t something to laugh about, but it’s used for humor in this film in a masterful way. For goodness’ sake, at one point all the men are in the formation of The Last Supper. That’s hilarious and it is the epitome of black comedy.
I do love how the film feels as if it has gone haywire by the end, when we are watching the football game that is being played. You forget that these men are all war doctors and nurses. You forget that they’re saving the lives of men who very well may not have wanted to fight in the war in the first place. And that’s the entire point. That’s the same reason why everyone plays in that game, besides the large sum of money, of course.
The overlapping dialogue reflects the chaos and confusion felt at this time during the war. It reflects the hectic nature of the army hospital. Each prank that’s pulled and each regular night is preceded by or followed by a scene in the operating room, where we see the horrors of war on these young men.
MASH reminds us that, even in the darkest times, we need some normalcy. We must keep some normalcy in order to not loose our sanity.