Coming Home examines three types of people affected by the Vietnam war. There are the soldiers who come home crippled, unappreciated for their sacrifice and in horrible care. Then there are the soldiers still out there or about to leave, full of pride and little anxiety at first and then disillusioned and wondering why they get to live or keep their limbs. Lastly are the women left behind to worry about their men overseas who see the devastation of the dead and paralyzed men returning.
As Bob (Bruce Dern) is about to leave for Vietnam, his wife, Sally (Jane Fonda), tells him she will stay with his mother and not work, just like he wants her to. Soon she starts volunteering at the Veterans hospital and rents a house near the beach with her friend, Vi (Penelope Milford). At the hospital, driven mostly by curiosity, she finds an old classmate, Luke (Joh Voight), who is now paralyzed and enraged about the way he is treated. As Sally becomes closer to Luke, and eventually starts a steamy affair with him, she wants to make people more aware of the treatment the injured veterans are having to endure.
While visiting Bob on leave in Hong Kong, we understand more of the current soldier’s plight. Before Bob left, he was much more laid back and calm, but now overseas he seems drained and tense. He talks about the horrible things he’s seen, like how his men cut off victims heads and put them on spikes as warnings, and how everything just seems like bullshit, not at all the patriotic duty everyone makes them think it will be. We also get the real reason he doesn’t want Sally to work, or volunteer (her once justifiable loop hole). Bob is really just afraid she will be unfaithful while he is away.
For Sally, it seems that she is on a path of self discovery while her husband is away. It felt like she and Vi always had men to depend on all their lives, but now with just the two women running a house, they realize they can exist without men. Sally is more taken care of than Vi though, who still works regular shifts while her husband is away. With Sally realizing how wonderfully privileged her life has been, she feels more obligated to give back and volunteer. And once she finds Luke, she finds more purpose in helping him, both with his physical setbacks and political agenda. Then, as they become lovers, Sally learns that men can be sexually giving as well, but no one really wants to see Jane Fonda in that explicit of a position. You have been warned.
By this tail end of the film journey, I’ve seen multiple movies about the mistreatment and plight of paralyzed Vietnam veterans. I’d say that this gives the viewer a broader perspective by not just focusing on a man in the wheelchair, but becomes watered down to a love triangle. Sadly, the only character I really liked here was Luke, he gained my sympathy while Sally and Bob seemed to be setting themselves up for their problems.
“And I know some of you guys are going to look at the uniformed man and you’re going to remember all the films and you’re going to think about the glory of other wars and think about some vague patriotic feeling and go off and fight this turkey too. And I’m telling you it ain’t like it is in the movies.”