The critic called Vonnegut "overrated at best" and goes on to say, "Like many inferior novelists, he films better than he reads" (33).
On the other hand Peter Reed talks of the novel's depiction of many "grim" and "downright painful" scenes sliced together to sustain the impression of concurrent actions that "intensifies" the interrelationship of events transcending time. The novel conveys an image of life that is not always beautiful, sometimes surprising, and "in total effect quite "deep" (52).
These two different views attest to the complexity of the subject and the different perspectives that surface dependent upon the experience of the reader or viewer. Perhaps it is the Tralfamadorian belief that one should concentrate on life's happier moments that is the salient message of both the novel and the film.
As part of this assignment a veteran of the Second World War who served in the Pacific theater of operations in the Air Force and is familiar with Vonnegut's written work was interviewed. Staff Sergeant Ruben Lee spoke of his memories of the time and the pervasive feeling that the war in which he fought was just given the provocation. Lee, 91, agreed with the idea that war is an "abomination" and should be avoided if possible.
Lee, a navigator on a B-25 bomber, said he participated in a number of missions during his service. Lee said that he had read Slaughterhouse-Five, and remembered the novel though it had "been some time ago." He reflected the war desensitized him to the sight of dead and felt that Vonnegut's repeated refrain in the novel, "so it goes," was indicative of his feelings about death at the time. This was a way to cope with the sometimes daily horrors encountered. Ironically, this may be interpreted as a confirmation of the Tralfamadorian belief about what one should think about.
For Lee, who was born a year before Vonnegut, the novel's main theme was anti-war. He remembered supporting the war in Vietnam at the time, but was later disillusioned by the outcome. This experience combined with his experience in World War II, and the passage of time lead him to conclude that while he felt his war was justified he was "disappointed" in the recent conflict in the Middle East, saying that the war in Iraq was a "mistake."
I found it interesting that Lee felt some wars are justifiable while others are not. When questioned he responded that the Second World War was fought in defense of a direct threat to the country. He also shared some feelings about Roosevelt declaring war on Germany after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, stating that in many ways he felt it was more of a political move and that Roosevelt used the attack as a reason to become involved in Europe. However, he stopped short of saying this was also a mistake.
There will always be extra information in the book since film productions have a time limit and a budget. Furthermore, not all of what is left out is useful information and with a book has the advantage of permitting one to use their imagination to set the scenes and see the characters. While in this case the movie retains many of the plot elements of the book the message is less cynical. By selecting and expanding the more visual aspects of the book and bypassing the more verbal sections Hill has softened Vonnegut's central theme. Nonetheless, the movie is still able to convey the grief and absurdity of war as well as the idea that the human race is very fragile and vulnerable in the context of the universe. Both pieces are interesting, thought provoking, and entertaining given the mediums in which they are published and produced.
Hill, George Roy, dir. Slaughterhouse-Five. Universal Pictures, 1972. DVD.
Matheson, T.J. "This Lousy Little Book:' the Genesis and development of Slaughterhouse Five as revealed in Chapter One." Studies in the Novel, Vol. 16, Issue 2, Summer 1984: 228-251. EBSOC. Web. 20 May 2013.
Kaufmann, Stanley. "Stanley Kaufmann on Films." New Republic, Vol. 166, Issue 20, 13 May 1972: 22-36. EBSOC. Web. 20 May 2013.