It’s Movie Time: Catch-22 (1970)

As always, Spoiler Alert

My Big Brother rented Catch-22 when I was a teenager. I didn’t watch it with him, but I did happen to walk though the living room and glance at the TV just as one of the movie’s most iconic scenes happened: a man standing on a float in the middle of a lake is chopped in half when he’s buzzed by a low-flying prop-plane.

My timing was perfect. I looked at the screen just before the man’s top half exploded into a red mist, saw his legs slowly collapse into the water, and then I was through the living room. The image of those legs stayed with me for a long time, and kept Catch-22 in my memory.

So, too, did the fact that, after watching the movie, Big Brother read the book so he could figure out what the hell it was about. That he’d done so fascinated my mother, who mentioned it from time-to-time over the years, reminding me about it once again when Catch-22 was an assigned book in one of my university classes.

That may be why I actually read the book in the first place. I was an English Lit major, and the vast majority of the assigned reading was dreck. I lost count of the number of books I got one or two chapters into and then gave up. The further on in my schooling I went, the fewer of the books I even tried to read, instead attending class regularly and taking good notes. But when Catch-22 appeared on my third year American Literature class reading list, I happily cracked the cover on it.

I’ve happily cracked the cover on it many times since then, as it’s one of my favourite books. And yet, even though every time I read it I’d say that I should watch the movie, it took me a good 25 years to finally do it.

Catch-22 is a satire that examines the absurdity of war and capitalism and bureaucracy, following the exploits of a US Army Air Squadron in World War II. The book is full of characters rich in detail, all of whom seem to be losing their minds in some way. (Or, in some cases, have already lost them long ago.)

In a way, the movie suffers because the book is simply too densely populated to pack everything in to a two-hour film. But in another way, the fact that the movie essentially skims the basic story off the top works, specifically because it’s more confusing that way. It adds a surreal veneer to everything, so instead of just watching Yossarian, the character on which the film focuses, lurch his way from bizarre event to bizarre event, we experience his disorientation, trying to figure out what the actual fuck is going on right alongside him.

I’ve only seen Catch-22 twice. The first time was immediately after finishing the book (again), and I went into it with an eye of comparing the two. I’m not surprised I didn’t much like the movie, as I was too wrapped up in analyzing to just … watch.

But this time, my second time, three years on, ‘just watch’ is exactly what I did. And I have to say, I rather liked it this time around. I haven’t read the book in the intervening years, so the details of it are softer in my mind and served more to gently fill things in that distract. And while I’m always going to prefer the book – it easily lands in my personal top ten of all time – the film’s an interesting companion piece, as well as a trip in its own right.

To see other posts in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order, click here.

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