The second film in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy, "Born on the Fourth of July" is based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic (played in the film by Tom Cruise), a good kid whose patriotism takes him to Vietnam in the late 1960s and brings him back home paralyzed from the chest down and burdened with the guilt of having accidentally killed a fellow soldier in combat. Living at home with his parents, Ron struggles fiercely with these challenges against the exacerbating background of his culture’s anti-war and anti-vet sentiments.

Things get bad for him, he gets very angry and leaves home for Mexico to forget it all with booze, drugs, and prostitutes. That false paradise eventually fails him, however, and he returns to the States and makes some positive moves, including visiting the parents of the soldier he had killed. He winds up being a spokesman for vets, anti-war ones in particular, and at the end he is wheeling himself out onto the stage of the Democratic Convention of 1976 to huge applause, feeling, as he has just said to a reporter offstage, "I’m home."


This is an excellent film portrayal of the agonies of adjusting to physical disability and dealing with what might loosely be called post-traumatic stress. Tom Cruise is superb in the very demanding role of Ron Kovic.

Oliver Stone’s interest in the social and cultural level of Ron Kovic’s story binds it to a particular moment in history when America was agonizingly reappraising its ideas about war, which means that the dilemmas of patriotism are always central.

And yet the film remains a strong medical-psychological study of post-traumatic identity destroyed and rebuilt, as Ron Kovic slowly and painfully understands his disability, discovers his anger, deals with his guilt, and gropes his way toward wholeness through a prominent role with the growing war-protest movement. In a sense, Ron Kovic was lucky that the revised patriotism was there as a vehicle for his emotional recovery, that both his disillusionment with pro-war patriotism and his disability could actually become sources of cultural validation in that context.

Thus, one question the film implicitly raises for the medical humanities: Are there analogous vehicles for psychic reintegration available to those whose disability is not associated with such a turn of public events, or to Vietnam vets who did not have the chance to rebuild their egos in the heady arena of national politics?


Based on Ron Kovic’s best-selling autobiography, "Born on the Fourth of July." Screenplay by Oliver Stone and Ron Kovic. The film won many awards, including Golden Globes for best drama, best screenplay (Stone & Kovic), best director (Stone), and best actor (Cruise). The film also won Stone an Oscar for best director and Cruise an Oscar nomination for best actor.

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MCA Universal