Catch-22 Movie Remake is Just The Gritty War Comedy We Need

Photo: Père Ubu CC BY-NC 2.0

Clooney said that he initially opposed the proposition of adapting the novel into a miniseries as he “didn’t want to get into the middle of the ‘beloved novel’.

Hulu’s remake of Joseph Heller’s 1961 satirical war novel, Catch-22, is finally out. Directed by George Clooney, the six-episode miniseries is to premiere on Friday, May 17th. The sardonic war story set during the second world war didn’t disappoint.

Catch-22 is among the most popular anti-war texts in the world. A satire on the absurdity of war, the hit novel is considered a masterpiece of English literature. With its interesting story coupled with Heller’s ruthless criticism, the book had all the required ingredients to make a splashy miniseries.

According to Clooney, both the novel and the miniseries make fun of red-tapism, bureaucracy, and the “ridiculousness of war.” Set in Europe during the peak of the second world war, Catch-22 follows the story of Captain John Yossarian, a United States Army Air Force bombardier and an artful, unmatched dodger.

Josephy Heller, Miami Bookfair International, 1986.Photo: Anrie CC BY-SA 3.0
Josephy Heller, Miami Bookfair International, 1986.Photo: Anrie CC BY-SA 3.0

Yossarian, played by Christopher Abbott, is frantic because tens of thousands of people he has never seen are trying to take his life. To ensure his safety during his missions, the panic-stricken bombardier is in the habit of randomly dropping his payload so he can quickly return to safety. Needless to say, the aviator always fails to hit any of his assigned targets.

Of course, the war is pretty dangerous so Yossarian can’t be blamed for his self-preservation efforts. His reluctance to participate in the war combined with the theme of Heller’s novel is beautifully summed up in an exchange between him and his squadron-mate, Clevinger.

North American B-25B Mitchell cockpit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo). In Catch-22, Yossarian is a 28-year-old captain in the 256th squadron of the Army Air Forces where he serves as a B-25 bombardier stationed on the small island of Pianosa off the Italian mainland during World War II.
North American B-25B Mitchell cockpit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo). In Catch-22, Yossarian is a 28-year-old captain in the 256th squadron of the Army Air Forces where he serves as a B-25 bombardier stationed on the small island of Pianosa off the Italian mainland during World War II.

After Yossarian complains that the enemy is trying to kill him, Clevinger explains they are trying to kill everyone, not just him. Yossarian replies, “And what difference does that make?”

Ironically, Yossarian’s own command is more troublesome than the enemy since they keep increasing the number of missions that must be flown before he can be granted leave. Moreover, despite all his wishes, Yossarian is unable to avoid his military assignments due to an ominous bureaucratic rule called Catch-22.

https://youtu.be/xMFq-Txrotc

According to the rule, only the insane or crazy can be removed from active duty, while aviators willingly flying dangerous missions are considered insane. Meanwhile, requesting to avoid a dangerous mission would require the aviator to ask to be grounded.

Nonetheless, asking to be removed from duty suggests a concern over personal safety, subsequently indicating they possess a rational mind and making them sufficiently sane to keep flying. That’s the catch: Catch-22.

The Hulu miniseries is not the first adaptation of the hit novel. In 1970, the novel was turned into a dark comedy movie by Mike Nichols. However, Hulu’s remake is more critical of the dangers of military service than the 1970 movie starring Alan Arkin.

B-25 from movie Catch 22.Photo: Bill Larkins CC BY-SA 2.0
B-25 from movie Catch 22.Photo: Bill Larkins CC BY-SA 2.0

At a Television Critics Association event, Clooney said that he initially opposed the proposition of adapting the novel into a miniseries as he “didn’t want to get into the middle of the ‘beloved novel’.”

He changed his mind upon reading the script, and he praises the writers who “did an amazing job unspooling these characters,” to allow the original story to expand to a six-episode series. Besides directing the series, Clooney also plays the supporting role of Scheisskopf, a ridiculous and buffoonish training officer.

Clooney, who was born to a military father, says the war story set around the second world war remains relevant today, “All of us spend our days and nights worrying about those situations. This story is just reflecting on the insanity of it,” he explained in a Reuters interview.

An American bombardier in training at Fort Benning, Georgia makes accurate hits with practice bombs that will later be exchanged for the real “eggs for war.”
An American bombardier in training at Fort Benning, Georgia makes accurate hits with practice bombs that will later be exchanged for the real “eggs for war.”

Luke Davies, the co-writer of the miniseries, suggested that everyone wakes up to a condition of anxiety every day. He adds that Catch-22 is “like the origin story of that.”

Read another story from us: The Exploits Of A WWII Paratrooper: An Independent British War Film

Despite its criticism of military service, Clooney and his team are unconcerned about any censure from veterans, saying that “Army people are the first people who like these stories, because they’re also making fun of the higher-ups.”

In the end, the miniseries’ criticism is aimed squarely at the bureaucratization, the red-tapism, and the “ridiculousness of war,” through unveiling the bitter realities of military life. It’s the gritty war comedy we need to truly understand the horrors of war.