The 59 Sci-Fi Challenge: #2 Slaughterhouse Five (1972)

Dave is undertaking a challenge. This is it.

Slaughterhouse Billy Pilgrim Tralfamadore Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five is an absolute mindfuck of a film. I still don’t think I quite understood what it was all about, but I’ll do my best to make sense of it.

Slaughterhouse Five opens on Billy Pilgrim (played really strangely and brilliantly by Michael Sacks, who I had never heard of either), typing a letter to the editor of a magazine. We see as he types that he has a problem: he is unintentionally time-travelling throughout moments in his life, past, present and future. From there, the disjointed narrative structure kicks in and we start to be propelled (often very suddenly and unexpectedly) through various points in Billy’s life, primarily his time in WWII Germany and post-war America. It’s a fascinating and useful device, allowing for random moments from Billy’s future and past to deepen our understanding of him as a character. It allows for some pretty nice fades and scene juxtapositions, but on the downside can feel a bit disorienting at times.

Slaughterhouse Five Dremen

No, I'm afraid he doesn't travel forward to 2010's swine flu outbreak

Not that there’s much to understand about Billy. For the most part, he’s a strangely passive character, not playing much of an active role in how his life turns out and looking as surprised as anyone.I’d imagine the director was using him as a representation of the loss of innocence post-war… Or something.

What surprised me was that the film has a very unusual and strangely dark sense of humour that’s often at odds with the grim tone. At one stage Billy’s wife goes on a mad GTA-style bender that was like something from The Blues Brothers. Other times, broad comical stereotypes will appear (the Brits) and characters will exchange increasingly bizarre dialogue. But I guess you can’t spell “Slaughterhouse” without “laughter”.

The other curious thing about this as an entry on the 101 sci-fi films list is that it could very easily not be science fiction. Billy experiences several instances of severe head injuries, which could easily explain his trips to the planet Tralfamadore as mere delusions and his time-travelling could easily be intense memory flashbacks.

Slaughterhouse Five Michael Sacks blood snow

Hide and Seek can have dangerous consequences

The only counter argument would be the time he accurately predicts his own death, but then you could counter-counter argue that by saying that future was also a delusion. And there’s no counter-counter-counter argument for that, is there?

There is an undeniably satirical backbone to Slaughterhouse Five, which was apparently also evident in its source material. Targets include American suburbia, the American “dream” and the dual nature of American foreign policy – cheesy niceness and unrelenting aggression (brought to us in the form of nice guy Edgar Derby and violent psycho Paul Lazarro).

Slaughterhouse Five is an unusual film and one that’s hard to become endeared to. It’s undeniably fascinating and intriguing, but it’s not a particularly easy watch. It’s narrative is a relentless onslaught of madness, but despite it being unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, I’m not sure I was entirely sold on the sum of its parts.


Nonetheless, I’d recommend it for the occassional nudity and hilariously crappy fake blood (see above – it looks worse in the film, trust me)

Pop Culture Bonus: If you’re one of the group of people that I have just joined that have seen both Slaughterhouse Five and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, you will get this T-shirt:

Note: I don’t mean you will get this T-shirt, as in I will send it to you as a reward for having seen two random films, but rather you will “get” it, as in “get” it. Get it?

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5 responses to “The 59 Sci-Fi Challenge: #2 Slaughterhouse Five (1972)

  1. Pingback: The 59 Sci-fi movies I must see before I die this year « Dave Watching Stuff·

  2. Slaughterhouse five of the Bible!!!
    1. Military Bible
    2. Soldiers Bible
    3. Adolf Hitler,s Bible
    4. George W. Bush,s Bible
    5. Barak Obama,s Bible
    6. 400.000 Nagasakis: Middle East!!!


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