1969 (1988) 

 

 

 

Director:     Ernest Thompson. 

Starring:     Robert Downey Jr. (Ralph Carr),  Kiefer Sutherland (Scott),  Bruce Dern (Cliff),  Mariette Hartley (Jessie),  Winona Ryder (Beth),  Joanna Cassidy (Ev),  Christopher Wynne (Alden),  Keller Kuhn (Marsha),  Steve Foster (Marshall),  Mert Hatfield (Coach Heart),  Welton Tootle (Junior Roberts),  Don Devendorf (Reverend Hardy),  Dr. Robert Louis Stevenson (Dean Bonner),  Jason Summers (Processor),  Scott N. Stevens (Hitchhiker). 

youth protest in the time of the draft and the Vietnam war

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

In 1969 Richard Nixon was inaugurated as president of the United States.  A year earlier, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both assassinated. But he Beatles were still together.  Ralph and I (Scott) were 19.  We hitchhiked home from Barton State College. 

Ralph tells Scott that he has slept with fourteen girls.  Scott is having trouble with girls and Ralph wants to help him get laid.  A guy named Marshall picks the fellows up in his car.  It turns out that the guy is homosexual and feels free to make a lot of passes at Scott.  So the guys get out of the car.  They sleep overnight in a field. 

A religious ceremony is being held by the side of a lake.  Ralph and Scott approach the ceremony.  Their two families are there.  Scott sees his father Cliff and his mother Jessie, along with his brother Alden.  Ralph sees his mother Ev and his sister Beth.  The families welcome their boys home.  They live in Culloch County, Maryland, a place where the 60's have not hit yet even though the 60's are almost over.  It's a place where nothing much has changed.  Scott's brother is going to be going to fight in the Vietnam War with the Marine Corps.  He tries to give Scott the keys to his red convertible, but Scott says he won't accept it.  They get into an argument and then start fighting each other.  Their father arrives and the fellow stop fighting.  Scott says to his brother about the war:  "It's not my war.  I don't care about it."  This makes his red-neck father angry and he tells Scott to apologize to his brother.  Dad is obviously unhappy with Scott.  Scott apologizes, but not really, and his brother tells his father to forget it. 

It's time for Alden to be taken to the local bus station for his trip back to the Marines.  His mother is not going.  Alden asks her:  "Aren't you going to say good-bye to me?"  No.  Scott, Ralph and Beth all pile into the red convertible and follow dad and Alden to the bus station.  As the bus heads down the road, Alden sees his mother jogging on a rise of land.  Alden has the bus driver stop for a minute.  He gets out and waves to his mother.  She keeps shouting to him:  "Don't die!  Don't die!"  Then Alden gets back onto the bus. 

Back at Barton State College Scott is worried that Ralph is in danger of flunking out and could be drafted and sent to Vietnam.  He is very concerned, but Ralph does not seem worried.  Beth comes for a visit.  Her mother and Scott's mother are with her.  There is an anti-war demonstration on campus.  The students take the administration building.  The police arrive and start busting heads.  A student who gets his head busted open falls on Beth and gets blood all over her face.  She herself is in danger of getting hit and Scott and Ralph fight to stop the police from hitting her.  Ev also tries to save her daughter.  After the police leave to chase others, they say:  "Stupid cops!"  Ralph tells Scott:  "Man, that was fun."

Ralph and Scott head out on the road.  Scott stops the car to pick up a white hitch hiker and than a black fellow who wasn't even hitch hiking.  Then he picks up a young married couple, the fellow an army man.  On the radio they hear that Nixon says the boys are coming home.  The army fellow is skeptical because if the boys are headed home, how come he is being sent to Vietnam?  No one likes the way Scott drives, but when Ralph takes over, he drives way too fast.  All the hitch hikers bail.  They have had enough. 

Beth addresses her high school graduating class.  She gives an anti-war speech.  Beth says:  "There's something wrong in America!"  Everybody seems to hate each other.  Ralph and Scott listen to her speech.  Ralph takes some
LSD, but Scott refuses.  Scott says that they are going to go on the road.  "That's what hippies do."  Following the graduation ceremony, Ralph goes crazy from the LSD and gets up on stage to use the microphone.  He says he flunked out.  Scott chases him.  It takes him awhile, but Scott finally catches Ralph.  Ralph is taken to the hospital. 

The two fellows trade in the red convertible for a van.  Scott paints the van with flowers.  They park down by the ocean.  Scott runs around the sand dunes.  In running around he runs into a group of nudist hippies.  The two fellows join them.  Scott says that they are going to change the world in this "last summer of innocence."  Later Ralph wonders if they shouldn't go home and get jobs.  Scott says:  "We're leaves, Ralph.  We don't need money."  Ralph says the draft board might be looking for him.  So they go home.  

At home Scott learns that Alden is missing in action in Vietnam.  He runs away from the family.  Scott, Ralph and Beth get into the van and head over to a federal building where the draft board keeps its records.  Ralph and Scott break in through a window.  Ralph grabs his draft file and then takes Scott's too.  But Scott wants him to leave his file alone.  The police arrive at the school and talk with Beth.  They hear noises in the building and enter the building looking for the culprits.  They catch Ralph.  The parents are called.  Ralph says that Scott didn't do anything, but Scott says he did.  Scott's father tells the police to arrest his son.  One of the black policemen tells Scott's father:  "They're good boys."   He adds that opposing the war is something everyone should think about.  The police only take Ralph down to the station. 

At night Beth visits Scott in his van.  She wants to go traveling with him.  She says that she really likes Scott and wants to know:  "Do you think I'm beautiful or anything?"   It takes him awhile, but he tells her that she is beautiful.  She asks him if he would make love to her.  They kiss. 

The Americans land a man on the moon.  Scott's father Cliff is ecstatic.  But his wife is not happy.  She has taken everything out of the refrigerator and placed the stuff on all the counters and table.  Cliff starts to help her clean it up, but Jessis says:  "It's my God damn mess!  I'll clean it up."  Cliff doesn't know what to say.  He just listens for awhile and later gives his wife a hug.  He also asks her:  "Are you mad at me?"  She replies:  "No.  I don't seem to feel anything."

Cliff goes over to Ev's place.  She dances before him.  He tells her she shouldn't drink so much and she tells him that he should drink more.  They kiss.  Scott arrives in the van.  He sees his father and Ralph's mother kissing.  He throws a pebble at Beth's window.  She throws her bags down and then climbs down.  They hop into the van. Scott drives over to se his mother.  He says he is sorry.  She says:  "Sorry, sorry, sorry.  It's a sorry time."  Scott and Beth along with Beth's dog head out on their travels.  They make a stop at the jail to see Ralph, but Ralph is not in a good mood.  When Scott tells him that Beth is going traveling with him, Ralph asks:  "Did you ball my sister? . . . Get him out of here!  He's no friend of mine."  Scott leaves.  Beth tells Ralph:  "You just don't understand." 

After a long while Beth asks Scott where they are going.  He tells her they are going to Canada.  One day Beth pulls the van over to the side of the road.  Scott asks her where are they.  She responds:  "Either heaven or Maine.  I don't know."  Actually they are right on the border with Canada.  Beth tells Scott that she is not going to go to Canada with him.  Scott feels hurt and abandoned, but Beth explains that she wants to be with him.  It's just that she does not want to run away.  She wants Scott to stay with her in the USA and fight against the war. 

Scott turns the van around and they head back home.  At home they attend the funeral service for Scott's brother Alden.  He is the first boy in Culloch County to die in Vietnam.  Scott speaks at the service and tells Alden that he was wrong when he said it wasn't his war.  It's everyone's war and those who want to stop it have the right to speak out against it.  He then tells everyone that he is going to get Ralph out of jail as part of a protest.  He adds:  "Anybody who wants to go with me can."  Quite a few people go with him on his walk to the jail.  "Easy Rider" and "True Grit" are playing at the local theatre. Dad rides to the jail with one of the police officers.  A policeman brings Ralph to the door and releases him.  Mother kisses and hugs her son.  Ralph then hugs Scott followed by a hug for his sister.  Cliff makes up with his son. 

Scott narrates:  "November 1969 327 of us marched in Washington in a protest against the Vietnam War along with 700,000 Americans.  This film is dedicated to all of us, dedicated to peace."

 

Good movie.  It gives some idea of the idealism and optimism among some of the liberals during the era of the protests against the Vietnam War.  I know the era well since my wife and I graduated from Florida State University in 1969.  Little did the poor demonstrating suckers know that with the election of Nixon the takeover of the country by the red necks was just getting started.   Instead of changing the world, they brought down repression on liberal thought.  For awhile during the reign of President Reagan, the conservatives nearly succeeded in making it appear as if the liberals who protested against the Vietnam War were unpatriotic as well as wrong.  Yes, we have only had two Democratic party presidents since 1968 and now it is 2008.  It was a sad period for the United States. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  

 

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