Film Review: Catch-22

Denial. Deep down most men are embarrassed at themselves and their condition, they know that they are unhappy, ashamed of the bad decisions that they have made that instead of admitting and changing, they continue, prolong, persevere until finally their efforts to convince others that they are happy makes them believe that they must be doing the right thing. He finally succumbs to madness.

Those of us who cling onto life, who value the goodness of justice and of righteousness, we see this madness everywhere, in everyone, the lies and falseness, the pretending, and despite the attempt to escape from the jaws of its hopelessness, the existential abyss is always ready to consume our every effort to channel moral goodness and what is right.

“Me: happy happy happy. Dead. You: worry worry worry. Dead. Don’t drag me into your shit.”

Does the absurdity of existence mean that the only choice we ultimately have is either nihilism or death?

When I saw George Clooney and the role he played to developing the new series Catch-22 that I watched recently on Stan, I immediately sighed thinking that it would fail. How wrong! While there is that distinct Clooney feel with the Italian landscape amidst the American war efforts, the excellent acting where even the way that they walked and talked established a classic 1940’s Hollywood experience, I was incredibly impressed. The series left me laughing, sad, anxious and frustrated all at the same time, much the same as when I read Joseph Heller’ book that used satire to explain the despair of war and of human existence.

It was a great idea to adapt the novel for a series rather than a film in order to really explain the satirical helplessness that makes one laugh at the misery of the situation. The series was meant to make you frustrated at the repetition and if it were another story, the repeated scenes that found Yossarian in the air would have been annoying. But that was the point! A film would not have given that length of time necessary to develop a closeness to the characters that a series could do and in doing so we feel as viewers the same frustrations that has us banging our heads against the brick wall, much the same as you do when you are reading the book. For me, this makes the series a triumph.

The absurdity starts to become obvious early in the series particularly with Colonel Cathcart who, in trying to establish the 57th Bomb Wing as the greatest wing in the war efforts by sheer numbers, continuously pushes up the quotas set for the soldiers. Starting from 30 it is raised to 35, then 40, and it continues as Yossarian attempts to continuously escape or design creative ways to fulfil the quotas. He is fighting the hopelessness, clinging onto life, onto his moral well-being and calls himself one of only a few sane people in the battalion for doing so.

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The senseless madness of the war is best seen in the deaths of McWatt, who flies the plane too low and kills Kid Sampson before killing himself as his plane crashes into a nearby cliff, as well as the death of Nately who is ripped off from the plane during a pointless mission to bomb a bridge. The scenes were filmed with outstanding special effects that it channelled genuine anxiety and pity. The scenes afterwards transitioned into  hilarity that you would expect from the satirical framework where Yossarian acts as a witness to the deaths McWatt and Sampson and also when he is promoted to captain despite his errors that left Nately dead, confusing that sense of anxiety. You want to laugh, indeed you do laugh, but it is no laughing matter. It is much the same when he gets shot in the balls just after he was about to get discharged but prevented by the arrival of Scheisskopf who learns of his wife’ adultery.

The insanity of the situation is not all helplessness, but the genuine monstrosity becomes clear with Aarfi when he murders the young Italian girl after raping her. His individual madness explains how the anarchy of the war undermines moral justice. What is the life of one young girl who is murdered after being raped and thrown out the window by an American soldier when Yossarian breaches Article 21:2:7 by taking leave without permission? It moves from simple insanity to evil, especially since Colonel Cathcart willingly channels a false story not to protect Aarfi but the reputation of his regiment.

Within this is a sub-story on Milo Minderbinder’ hilarious M&M Enterprises, a lucrative transnational food syndicate profiting from the war and where his disloyalty and abuse of power includes relationships with the enemy itself, his German ‘shareholders’ providing a number of planes to help keep the business moving. In perfect satirical fashion, this black marketeer trades goods across the world for a profit and despite his shady methods, we find him loved as Mayor of Palermo, Assistant Governor General  of Malta, and Pasha of Oran that left me laughing to tears in Episode Three. This ingenuity becomes clear when he explains how he brought Scotch over to Italy and since no one in Italy drinks Scotch, the price becomes inflated and so the once poor city begins the thrive again for exporting Scotch at a much higher price.

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His disloyalty and abuse of power that enables such wealth, prestige and power undermines the justification for the war and returns back to this important statement made by Nurse Duckett:

“Seems to me you expend a lot of energy railing against things you can’t control.”
“And who says I can’t control them?”
“This is war. It’s a law of nature that war concentrates power in the hands of those most likely to abuse it.”

The result of all that bad-luck left a sane young man who spent so much time trying to save his own life amidst all the madness to finally lose his mind. He gave up. The death of Snowden, a new cadet killed after Yossarian told him to stay out of the tail gunner to protect him, depleted his sense to fight for life. We needed each of the six episodes to really grasp that sense of hopelessness, pity, frustration and even fear at the continuity and repetitive situation that Yossarian found himself to be in. The series is well worth watching. 

Episode 102

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