The film begins with Ron Kovic’s (Tom Cruise) childhood during a summer in Massapequa, New York. He plays war in the woods, attends a Fourth of July parade, plays and wins at a local neighborhood baseball game, and watches President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, which later inspires him to enlist in the Marines.
After Ron and his classmates hear an impassioned lecture about the Marine Corps, Ron decides to enlist. He misses his prom because he is unable to secure a date with his love interest, Donna (Kyra Sedgwick). He confronts her at the prom and has a dance with her on his last night before leaving.
The film then moves to Ron’s second Vietnam tour in October 1967. Now a Marine sergeant and on patrol, his unit massacres a village of Vietnamese citizens, believing them to be enemy combatants. During the retreat, Ron becomes disoriented and accidentally shoots one of the new arrivals to his platoon. The platoon goes out on another hazardous patrol in January 1968. During a firefight, Ron is critically wounded and trapped in a field facing sure death, until a fellow Marine rescues him. Paralyzed from the mid-chest down, he spends several months recovering at the Bronx Veterans Administration hospital.
The hospital living conditions are deplorable: rats crawl freely on the floors, the staff is generally apathetic to their patients’ needs, doctors visit the patients infrequently, drug use is rampant (among both the staff and patients), and equipment is too old and ill-maintained to be useful. Ron returns home, permanently in a wheelchair, with his leg intact.
From the start, he notices how all his family and friends treat him differently now that he is paralyzed. He begins to alienate his family and friends, complaining about students staging anti-war rallies across the country and burning the American flag.
Though he tries to maintain his dignity as a Marine, Ron gradually becomes disillusioned, feeling the effects of his paralysis on his life, and realizes that all the things he was taught from birth, like honor, patriotism, and courage, were illusions which he would give up any day to get his legs back.
Ron joins Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and travels to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. He and his compatriots force their way into the convention hall during Richard Nixon’s acceptance speech and cause a commotion that makes it onto the national news.
Director: Oliver Stone
Year of Release: 1989
Character to watch: Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?