‘Born on the Fourth of July’ is an anti-war film that follows the life of Ron Kovic over 20 years – from his childhood days to his time as a Marine during the Vietnam war and his anti-war activism as a paraplegic veteran. The 1989 film does not let the audience shy away from the realities and consequences of war and keeps them engaged the entire time. It serves as the second installment in director Oliver Stone’s trilogy of films about the Vietnam war, the other two being ‘Platoon’ and ‘Heaven And Earth.’
Stone captures each and every moment in the film with the character’s thoughts and emotions at its core. Not a single scene feels artificial or forced. The brilliant and careful performance by Tom Cruise, Kyra Sedgwick, Raymond J. Barry, Jerry Levine, Frank Whaley, and Willem Dafoe only adds to the film’s appeal to cinema lovers everywhere. But is there any truth behind the story of ‘Born on the Fourth of July’? Let’s find out!
Is Born on the Fourth of July a True Story?
Yes, ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ is a true story. This 1989 biographical film is based on the eponymous 1976 autobiography of the real-life Ron Kovic, adapted to the screen by Kovic and Stone. Tom Cruise’s terrific portrayal of Kovic, with his natural transition from an idealistic schoolboy and soldier to a war veteran with a disability who is disillusioned by the leadership of his country, adds a realistic feel. Stone’s method of creating a prologue to the film’s narrative through foreshadowing at the start of ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ is both brilliant and more than a little bittersweet when the screen fades to black.
A young Kovic playing soldier with his friends in their school days, seeing veterans with a disability using wheelchairs during a Fourth of July parade, and his mother telling him about her dream where he is addressing a large crowd act as premonitions for Kovic’s struggles and his path in life. A patriotic American, Ron Kovic enlists in the Marines because he truly believes that the communist threat will take over his country if they can’t win the war in Vietnam. But the barbarities of war soon catch up to him.
Cruise transitions from a wide-eyed schoolboy who wants to serve his country to an apathetic and helpless man dealing with the traumas of war so naturally that the audience experiences these emotions with him. The film briefly touches upon the plight of Vietnam war veterans and the lack of services provided to them. This is shown through Kovic’s time at a hospital and acts as a strong criticism of the government’s reportedly lax nature towards the soldiers who had sacrificed all that they had in the war.
‘Born on the Fourth of July’ also showcases how mental health, specifically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a common occurrence in soldiers and often goes untreated. Ron Kovic flinching at the sound of firecrackers during a Fourth of July parade is both a subtle nod to his own PTSD, and at the same time, calls back to the beginning of the film, when a young Kovic saw another veteran do the same from atop his father’s shoulders. Thus, trauma becomes a significant point through which the viewers can connect with the characters better.
Ron Kovic’s interaction with other Vietnam veterans in the film presents a unique perspective as well. Through Kovic’s interaction with soldiers who are specially-abled, ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ confronts the guilt of having committed atrocities and taking the lives of innocents during wartime in Vietnam that they have. The soldier’s delusions and listlessness without a battlefield are palpable in these scenes. Tom Cruise again gives everything to the role here as he goes through what can only be described as a painful experience. His physical transformation from a healthy soldier to a sickly man is simply jarring.
This Oliver Stone directorial highlights the horrors of war through Tom Cruise’s raw acting paired with visceral and haunting visuals. By the end of its 185-minute runtime, the film forces the audience to accept the fact that there are no winners in war, only casualties. ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ is anti-war in every sense of the word.
Read More: Where Was Born on the Fourth of July Filmed?