Study Guide for Slaughterhouse-Five [film]

1. Filmographic Reference

Complete reference; material in {braces} optional.

Slaughterhouse-Five. Dir. George Roy Hill. USA: Universal, 1972. {Paul Monash, prod. Glenn Gould, music. Stephen Geller, script, based on Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).}

2. Major Cast

Billy Pilgrim (=BP): Michael Sacks Valencia Merble Pilgrim: Sharon Gans
Montana Wildhack: Valerie Perrine Brit. Officer: Tom Wood
Billy's Mother: Lucille Benson Howard Campbell, Jr.: Richard Schaal
Paul Lazzaro: Ron Leibman Edgar Derby: Eugene Rocke
Roland Weary: Kevin Conway [Werner Gluck]: Nick Belle
Lionel Merble: Sorrell Booke Barbara Pilgrim Shaw: Holly Near
Stanley Shaw: Gary Waynesmith (Sgt.) Robert Pilgrim: Perry King

Other Characters

Billy's roommate in veterans' hospital: Eliot Rosewater
At the hospital after his accident: Bertram Copeland Rumfoord.
Tralfamadorians: Intelligent, spacefaring creatures from Tralfamadore, or creatures only in the mind of Billy Pilgrim as he desperately tries to escape from the pain of memory and the responsibility remembering would place upon him.

3. Scene-by-Scene (Quick Cuts Unless Otherwise Noted)

Caution: The list is approximately accurate, but only approximately.
WWII = World War II; time of Billy Pilgrim's full adulthood (theoretically) otherwise.

  1. Pilgrim home in the 'burbs (= an unlocalized suburb in The American Heartland, if you like, call it "Ilium, NY," but be sure to know at least two meanings for "Ilium"). Barbara and Stanley arrive, BP's daughter and son-in-law. BP in basement writing letter. Time: present. Clock ticks.
  2. WWII: Belgium, Battle of the Bulge (16 Dec. 1944-25 Jan. 1945). Credits.
  3. 'Burbs, more exposition in BP's letter.
  4. Flash to BP and Montana Wildhack on Tralfamadore.
  5. 'Burbs, BP's letter.
  6. WWII: Bulge, BP with Lazzaro, Weary, and an unnamed (soon gone) corporal.
  7. Tralfamadore: BP with Montana Wildhack.
  8. WWII: Battle of the Bulge. Fight between BP and Lazzaro; three Yanks captured. Weary must give up boots to German.
  9. Shot of shoes, to wedding night of BP and Valencia.
  10. WWII: Column of Allied POWs, Weary limping. BP stepping on Weary's feet, esp. after he sees whores (?) in window. BP photographed for German war propaganda.
  11. Flash cut to photographing of BP's and Valencia's anniversary.
  12. WWII: Train on-loading POWs; Col. Wild Bob thinks he recognizes BP (he doesn't) / to inside of freight car with POWs, BP goes under blanket.
  13. BP under blanket at VA hospital, avoiding his mother (and Eliot Rosewater).
  14. WWII: POWs on train, death of Roland Weary.
  15. VA hospital shortly after WWII: BP undergoing electroshock treatments, exposition on destruction of Dresden.
  16. WWII: Arrival at POW camps next to small death camp. BP meets fatherly Edgar Derby. Showers. (NB: The POWs aren't at a death camp, but they're next door to one. The showers would have ominous reverberation for viewers who know anything about how the Nazis ran their sophisticated death camps, where newly-arrived victims were told they were going to showers to be deloused.)
  17. Shower at YMCA (or whatever); young BP thrown into water by father; BP sinks.
  18. WWII: POW camp, exterior. Death camp next door. Enter Brits. Party inside.
  19. BP with his dog Spot in 'Burbs. Time passes. BP and Valencia have a child; BP more interested in Spot at a party. Tralfamadorian ship effect (?) first appears (or first seen by BP), appears to grow.
  20. WWII: Dissolve to Lazzaro threatening BP at POW camp; BP nurtured by Edgar Derby; find diamond in coat Germans gave to BP to mock him.
  21. BP and Valencia at their anniversary party. BP finds Robert in the bathroom, on the toilet with a Playboy, which BP confiscates and opens to discover Montana Wildhack featured; exit BP with Playboy. (Think about it . . . . [The novel has BP's life on Tralfamadore with Montana Wildhack is an erotic fantasy esp. suitable for a horny, hetero male adolescent, so the little joke here may be significant.])
  22. Intercutting between scenes of WWII American POWs being told they're going to Dresden and choosing Edgar Derby for a leader, with BP in middle age being elected president of the local Lions Club.
  23. Pilgrim family at Montana Wildhack film at drive-in (note the cramped two- shot we get of BP and Robert).
  24. WWII: POW train to Dresden. BP and Derby talk, with Lazzaro listening: Father and son stuff, with Derby coming through pretty well.
  25. BP paying off cop at cemetary to keep Robert out of legal trouble. Valencia, angry, off to one side, so to speak; Robert, sullen, off to another. (Note the 19th-c. term, "cash nexus": the only human connection "imaged" in this shot might be BP/cop, connected, temporarily, by money.)
  26. WWII: BP/Derby back on train: father/son topics. Dresden as "The Land of Oz."
  27. WWII: Arrive at Dresden station. Walk into beautiful city: see kids, horses; BP gets inexplicably slapped. (Cause: Old German war hero insulted by BP's outfit and smile.)
  28. Plane ride of optometrists. BP's crash vision. BP tries to get plane to return. Quartet sings. Crash.
  29. WWII: POW March through Dresden. Explanation of "Slaughterhouse-Five."
  30. BP rescued after plane crash, in part because he remembers to say "Slaughterhouse-Five," Schlachthof-funf.
  31. Valencia's heroic ride in her white Cadillac to get to Billy.
  32. BP gives Valencia white Cadillac for Valencia's birthday.
  33. Quick intercutting with overlapping audio between Valencia's trip to the hospital, ending with her going one way on her gurney while BP goes past her to OR on his (both unconscious). / WWII: inside Slaughterhouse-Five. / Operation on BP's head. / WWII: no talking to Germans.
  34. WWII: POWs pass by hanged person (man?)Ñ--audio from operation on BP's head. Edgar Derby with pottery.
  35. Dissolve with Slaughterhouse-Five becoming surgeon walking down hospital corridor: BP OK, learn of death of Valencia.
  36. BP in hospital bed next to Harvard Professor B. C. Rumfoord. Young female friend of Rumfoord brings him books. BP finally bears his one bit of witness to Dresden: "I was there."
  37. WWII: Dresden, 3 p.m., 13 Feb. 1945 (the day of the death of the city).
  38. BP, and Rumfoord, with Rumfoord talking about the 135,000 killed in Dresden nothing next to the 5 million Allied military deaths, plus other Nazi crimes; continuing in voice-over into shots of a Dresden with old people and kids. (The visuals show "'Nazi' infants and children." Even people with few qualms about killing Nazis can have problems with seeing kids burned to death.])
  39. WWII: 9:55 p.m., 13 Feb. 1945. Howard W. Campbell, American traitor, addresses American POWs. Air Raid--move to bomb shelter. Confrontations between Campbell and Lazzaro (brief) and Edgar Derby.
  40. BP driven home from hospital by Barbara and Stanley.
  41. Intercutting between German guards and US POWs climbing up out of Slaughterhouse-Five after bombing (14 Feb. 1945) and rather decrepit BP climbing stairs to bedroom, carrying Spot.
  42. WWII: Dresden, 14 Feb. 1945. Young German guard, identified in novel as Werner Gluck, runs off trying to find his girlfriend.
  43. Return of Robert Pilgrim as clean-cut Green Beret sergeant. Second appearance of Tralfamadorian ship (?)--we see a moving light anyway. Robert apologizes; BP says he's proud of Robert, but they say little more. BP and Spot disappear in a special effect .
  44. BP to dome on Tralfamadore, applause, dialog between BP and never-shown Tralfamadorian.
  45. WWII: Dresden, ca. 15 Feb. 1945--"corpse mines" and pyres.
  46. Montana Wildhack arrives on Tralfamadore, almost naked. She and BP nurture one another. Voice asks, "Are you mating now?"
  47. Edgar Derby finds and casually pockets small Dresden-wear figure; for doing so, he's summarily executed by firing squad.
  48. Montana Wildhack pirouettes (like a stock shot of a china doll?) and the Tralfamadorians will get their mating.
  49. Barbara and Stanley with BP, trying to get him to see a shrink. BP says he's seen his whole life, up to his death in Philadelphia.
  50. Death of BP in Philadelphia ("City of Brotherly Love"), being shot by Paul Lazzaro, while BP witnesses not to Dresden but to the quietist philosophy he learned on Tralfamadore (or dreamed up).
  51. WWII: Dissolve to Lazzaro getting BP to help him steal a huge grandfather clock, which Lazzaro drops when they hear gunfire. The gunfire is from celebrating Russian liberators, who come by and offer BP vodka, but don't help him get up. Last image of WWII Pilgrim: smiling BP, caught under clock.
  52. Montana Wildhack to BP: "Billy, we just had a baby boy." BP on Tralfamadore with an incredibly clean and beautiful Montana Wildhack, with clean, soon nursing son. The Tralfamadorians cheer; the heavens rejoice (so to speak) with fireworks. Roll credits.

4. From the Notes with the MCA Tape

This is the story of Billy Pilgrim ...who is ordinary in almost every respect but one: he has come unstuck in time and jumps back and forth in this life with no control over where he is going next. Part of one morning he might spend on the distant planet Tralfamadore with sexy movie bombshell Montana Wildhack..., and at the same time be in a ditch in Belgium in world War II where he is set upon by GIs Paul Lazzaro...and Roland Weary..., and then captured by German soldiers.... As so it goes, from past to present, to future, until Billy finally realizes that in order for him to survive even to his death... he must concentrate on the good things and ignore the bad in life.

I know that the "moral" of the novel is more complex than this -- but did the MCA folk get the "moral" of the film right? Is it right if Tralfamadore is real? (If BP "really" is on Tralfamadore with Montana Wildhack, did the Tralfamadorians give her a perfect pregnancy and delivery? If BP is crazy, why does Tralfamadore come across as real as Dresden?)