PTSD Through Time

Billy Pilgrim snaps at typewriter keys as Slaughterhouse-Five begins. His letter recounts a fantastic story – Pilgrim lives in a time loop. Hitting a random vowel, he’s swept back to the snowy German front, and attacked by allies.

Slaughterhouse-Five’s compelling nature draws not from its sci-fi, rather its trauma. Pilgrim’s (Michael Sacks) fate is to repeatedly relive his wartime experiences. Casual civilian life brings constant comparison. When a men’s club inaugurates Pilgrim, he fades to a German POW camp as his superior is voted to lead. The Dresden bombing becomes a merciless trigger throughout his life, no matter how distorted it’s lived.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote the source novel based on his own military service, Dresden included. Pilgrim’s frustrations with life simmer under the surface. In the hospital following a plane crash, he’s roomed with a man preparing to write a book about the Allied attacks. Pilgrim’s pleas to tell his own story go unheard. Historical revisionism ensures that Pilgrim being commanded to burn children’s bodies in the aftermath is forever an untold story. His own wife casually speaks of dead squadmates, ignorantly unaware of her husband’s reality.

Few films successfully encapsulate what war does to common soldiers. Slaughterhouse-Five is in those ranks.

The hook to Slaughterhouse-Five is not the PTSD, rather fate. Because Pilgrim lives out of time, he knows his purpose. He’s on Earth to give hope, have children, fight, and impact others. War is never sensible, but its outcome critical. Pilgrim knows when and how he dies, but continues anyway, cementing a small part of human civilization, with full understanding of the role he plays/played.

It’s not only life – Vonnegut’s work explores death via an interstellar purgatory. Slaughterhouse-Five brings a surreal touch to Pilgrim’s Christian beliefs; he began his wartime service as a Chaplain, then capably begins to unravel life in his time loop. He’s a character never bothered by the wife who repeatedly claims she’ll lose weight (and doesn’t) or those who hate his dog. His faith already paid off, and his endurance to battlefield atrocities prepared him for later challenges.

The material seems unfilmable, a story with no standard structure and winding between so many eras, Slaughterhouse-Five poses a cinematic quagmire. And yet, it works. The World War II visuals prove unmistakable, its bit parts emotional, and intelligent editing keep Pilgrim’s life in view. Vonnegut’s truthfulness comes through Sacks, barely old enough to drink when he starred in this, his first screen credit. Few films successfully encapsulate what war does to common soldiers. Slaughterhouse-Five is in those ranks.


Captured on a thick, heavy film stock, grain is the visually commanding factor on this disc. Pay attention though, because Arrow’s encode creates a future baseline as to how best to handle such thickness. At no point during this presentation does the imagery sour to a digital mass; it’s organic and film-like, perfectly preserved. This allows detail to maintain a high standard, crisp and clearly resolved.

For such a downbeat film, Slaughterhouse-Five demands notice through its contrast. From the German front’s snow to Dresden’s muted, bombed out city, the screen never loses density or depth. Pure black is consistent, and where applicable, rich contrast is too.

Color shifts scene-to-scene, always appealing to Slaughterhouse-Five’s aesthetic. Scenes with brighter saturation bring out firm primaries. Others purposefully limit intensity, doing so with stout earth tones. By the climactic fireworks display, reds, blues, and greens leap out in full. It’s gorgeous, as is the master.

At the source, damage is mitigated. Arrow states this is a 4K scan from the negative; it looks as such.


Presented in PCM mono, Arrow’s Slaughterhouse-Five produces appreciable range. Each typewriter key Pilgrim hits snaps with satisfying treble. Whisked to the war, vehicles rumble with natural bass. It’s an unusual amount of power from something this aged.

Plus, it’s pure, freed from defects. Dialog stays crisp, and the classic score holds a rich warmth. Like the video, this is pristine.


Troy Howarth comes first in the bonus menu, discussing Slaughterhouse-Five on a commentary track. Critic Kim Newman provides his thoughts in a 21-minute conversation. Interviews begin with actor Perry King (14:07), producer Jennings Lang’s son discusses his father’s work (8:41), assistant producer Robert Crawford speaks to his time on the film (14:38), and film music historian Daniel Schweiger talks about the musical selection (11:36). There’s a trailer coming in for the finale.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s compelling source novel about life, war, and faith is turned into a stellar film adaptation in 1972’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

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