Jon Voight plays Luke Martin, a Marine sergeant who comes back from Vietnam with both legs paralyzed and faces the many challenges of constructing a liveable life. Jane Fonda is Sally Hyde, the wife of Marine captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern), who volunteers at a local vets hospital while her husband is overseas and there meets Luke, whom she had known slightly in high school. Sally gets to understand the plight of disabled vets, and she gets emotionally, and then sexually, involved with Luke.

Bob returns with a minor physical wound, but he has been emotionally traumatized by the war. He agitatedly threatens Luke and Sally with a bayonetted rifle, and Luke leaves Sally to Bob, as he knew he would have to do. Bob is much too distraught to be satisfied with this victory, however, and in a near-final scene, he swims out into the ocean surf to what we understand will be his death.


The filmmakers do a fine job presenting the emotional agonies, and some of the physical ones, of disabled vets. The mood at the hospital is grim, and the anger and frustration of Luke and others are powerfully represented. (Toward the end of the film a young patient kills himself.) The film also presents Luke’s relationship with Sally with admirable complexity.

At the center, however, is Luke’s battle to rehabilitate himself. He tells Sally that when he dreams, there’s no wheelchair: "I’m still the same person." But in waking life, he tells her, ’People look at me and they see something else . . . they don’t see who I am." In between his old self and the fearsome and devalued cripple he sees in others’ eyes lies Luke’s range of possibility, and this film shows him exploring that range with an interesting combination of ego-strength and vulnerability.

Bob’s return, obviously an attempt to put a wider frame of reality around the (actually fairly realistic) idyll of the affair, seems to have been imported from another world. Still, it could be the beginning of a discussion of whether the disabled live by a different code. (Is Luke in any way responsible for Bob’s death? Would we feel differently about the affair if Luke had not been paralyzed?)


Oscars for Best Actor (Voight), Best Actress (Fonda), and Best Screenplay, plus numerous other Academy Award nominations.

Primary Source

MGM United Artists