Written By Buck Henry and Directed By Mike Nichols

When satire is done right, it can really leave a fierce impression and accomplish a lot more than producing laughs. The underlying messages should speak loud and clear, even when not spoken directly.

I’ve never read this book, but after watching The Graduate I decided to check out some more Mike Nicholas films and that this would be my starting point. After all, what’s more fun than mocking the absurdity of war?

Nichols and Buck Henry strike gold here, telling the story of a bombadier named Yossarian (Alan Arkin) who is desperate to stop running his flight missions and be transferred. He needs to be declared mentally unfit, but there is no way for that condition to be met thanks to the mutually conflicting nature of the rules. They are confusing because they are meant to be, which the film is as well. It’s told in fragments that jump around and seem to conflict with each other much the same as the titular rule itself.

Alan Arkin is great in the main role, a whirlwind of confusion and bewilderment at the insanity that he cannot escape from. Martin Balsam, Art Garfunkel, Martin Sheen and Bob Newhart (in a hilarious and small role as Major Major) all chip in wonderfully, producing a zany atmosphere populated with colorful people who only seem to get crazier when the screws tighten.

But it’s not all fun and games. The more Yossarian seeks escape, the more real the horrors become. Innocent people and soldiers alike are dying for absolutely no reason and the higher ups just smile and move on about their business, even when saying it makes no sense would be charitable at best. Henry and Nichols produce a very distinct work, and from what I’ve read it does well to capture the voice of the novel’s author Joseph Heller. We’ve often heard the adage that “War is Hell,” but is it truly this damn…insane?

I hope I never have to find out.