You can’t go home again, because home will never be quite the same as when you left.In this post, sponsored by SundanceTV’s Rectify—in which the main character is freed from death row and re-enters small-town life—we examine troubled homecomings in pop culture. Rectify returns for a second season on June 19.
Some Kind Of Hero
In this 1982 film, Richard Pryor—a massively popular stand-up at the time, who was stretching his dramatic legs—plays a solider who returns from Vietnam only to find that nothing is the same. His wife is with another man (and has a baby), his mother is sick, and the confession he made as a POW causes the Army cut off his benefits. He turns to crime, naturally.
Born On The Fourth Of July
As the title suggests, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) starts this film as the model American patriot, an honor-bound kid who signs up for the Marines and goes on multiple tours of duty in Vietnam. But Kovic is badly injured in action—as is his sense of national pride—and the wheelchair-bound soldier returns home to an America that’s openly questioning the war he so proudly signed up for. With the nation’s turmoil amplifying his own internal doubts, Kovic struggles to find a place for himself, reaching a low point when he fights with a fellow Vietnam vet on the side of the road in Mexico. Kovic eventually establishes himself as an anti-war advocate, moving beyond a rocky homecoming by seeking to heal his wounded homeland.
B.D.’s Iraq War recovery, Doonesbury
For 34 years, Doonesbury’s football jock/Army Reservist/cop character, B.D., had never been seen without his helmet. That changed on April 21, 2004, in a strip that sees the character wounded while on patrol in the Iraq War—not only does the helmet finally come off, but in the ensuing months, B.D.’s tough façade falls away, too. Upon his return home, B.D. has to learn to walk on a prosthetic leg, and he faces mental illness in the form of violent nightmares and a tenacious depression. The story arc, which spanned years, was a deeper, more sensitive treatment of Iraq War veterans’ plight than anybody could expect from a daily comic strip, even a political-minded one like Doonesbury. Author Garry Trudeau collected the story of B.D.’s injury and long recovery in two anthologies, One Step At A Time and The War Within.
The Deer Hunter
In perhaps the greatest Vietnam movie ever made, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage play prisoners of war whose torture—they’re forced to play Russian roulette—damages them mentally forever. Even De Niro’s character, who could be called the most fortunate of the three, can’t adjust to life in his Pennsylvania town. The film won three big Oscars, for Best Director (Michael Cimino), Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actor (Walken).
In the process that made him part-man, part-machine, all cop, RoboCop was supposed to forget all about his past life as Detroit police officer Alex Murphy. Unfortunately, the scientists at Omni Consumer Products forgot that you can wipe a man’s memory but you can’t reprogram his soul—and so when RoboCop finds his former address in an old case file (and learns that he’s technically dead), it prompts one of the strangest, most emotionally honest scenes in what’s otherwise a gleefully over-the-top carnival of acerbic social commentary and cinematic ultraviolence. As RoboCop tours the house that no longer belongs to the Murphys, an automated real-estate agent chirps on and on about the assets the property could offer the lucky family that moves in. But RoboCop doesn’t need the hard sell: Those assets flash into view as he wanders the vacant corridors and remembers his wife and son, making for an elegiac passage that demonstrates humanity hasn’t gone completely out of style in the Motor City.
In Cast Away, when Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is rescued after four years in an island wilderness, it seems like a huge relief at first. But the long-stranded FedEx efficiency expert soon finds that returning to the mainland isn’t the same as returning to normal. Since the rest of the world assumed that Noland was dead, his wife has moved on—she’s remarried with a young daughter. And it appears unlikely that Noland will just return to his day job. He’s out of sync with the world, a reality embodied by the delicacies on offer at the big FedEx press conference announcing his return: After subsisting on little more than crab and coconuts for four years, Noland strolls up to the buffet table and sees a spread with all the crab he can eat. He opts to go hungry.
In Jason Reitman’s funny, pointed 2011 film Young Adult, Charlize Theron returns to her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota. On the surface, she seems successful—the ghost-writer of a popular young-adult book series—but reconnecting with her old friends is a funny, ugly thing. She desperately tries to reconnect with her high-school flame, played by Patrick Wilson, who rejects her advances out of hand, leaving her looking like a fool (which she is).