Born on the Fourth of July
Based on the book by Ron Kovic and directed by Oliver Stone, a young man joins the Marines to fight in Vietnam and is seriously wounded physically and psychologically; but he eventually realizes the war was wrong and becomes a leader of the Vietnam veterans who are against the war.
Ron Kovic remembers his childhood and his friends.
On Long Island in 1956 the boy Ron plays at being soldiers with his best friend Timmy. They pretend to shoot at the enemies and claim they are not shot dead.
The Kovic family attends a parade on July 4. Ron sits on the shoulders of his father (Raymond J. Barry) and sees the veterans marching by. Mr. and Mrs. Kovic (Caroline Kava) say Ron is like a fourth of July firecracker.
In little league Ron hits a home-run.
The Kovic family watches President Kennedy give his inaugural speech on television, and his mother says she had a dream that Ron was giving a speech and saying great things.
Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) wrestles in high school.
Ron comes home, and in the kitchen his mother urges him to be a champion. In his room she finds a Playboy magazine and asks him where he got it. She tells him to go to confession and orders him to take it out of her house.
Ron is wrestling in a match, and Donna (Kyra Sedgwick) and his parents are rooting for him; but he loses.
In an auditorium Ron with students watch two Marines come in, and Sgt. Hayes (Tom Berenger) speaks to them and says the Marines are the best. He says they have never lost a war, and he takes questions.
Donna walks with her friends.
Ron at a hamburger restaurant has his Playboy and tells his friends that he is going into the Marines. He says this is their chance; his dad was in World War II. Ron says the Communists have missiles in Cuba. Stevie says he is not worried there. They go out and walk on the street while talking about who they are taking to the prom. Ron says he is taking Rosanna Lombardi.
In a grocery store Mr. Kovic tells Ron to take a box to section three and do some work. Ron sees girls and puts down the box. He asks Donna how she is doing, and she says she heard he is going to be a Marine. He says he will probably go to the front line in Vietnam. Donna says she is going to Syracuse University. He asks to talk to her privately and asks if she is going to the prom. She says she is going with Jake. She says Stevie told her that he is going with someone else. He hopes to see her before he leaves town.
At the prom students dance to a romantic song.
In his room Ron is listening to the Yankee game. He goes to the hall and hears his brother singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Ron sees his dad is watching television news about the Vietnam War. Ron talks about serving his country, and his mother says he would be doing God’s will. Ron says he wants to go to Vietnam and is willing to die if he has to. His father mentions the prom, and Ron leaves the room. In his room he kneels and prays to God and asks Jesus to help him make the right decision.
Ron runs in the rain at night.
At the prom the wet Ron in informal clothes walks among those dancing and asks Donna to dance with him. She says yes, and while dancing he kisses her during “Moon River.”
In October 1967 near the Cua Viet River in Vietnam soldiers are deployed on a beach. Kovic says it is his second tour, and he has not seen a Georgia boy get hurt yet. An officer gives Sgt. Kovic an order to advance. Shooting begins, and he shouts, “Cease fire!” until they stop. The officer makes them form a line, and they advance into a village. The officer shouts in Vietnamese. Kovic goes inside a hut and sees that civilians have been slaughtered. He calls for a medic to help the wounded. Another soldier asks where the rifles are. The officer calls for a medevac helicopter for the friendly wounded. He makes the soldiers leave the hut. Kovic runs out. They exchange fire, and Kovic kills a soldier. He and others go to him and realize he is an American.
Kovic goes into a tent and tells an officer it was a confusing day; that is when Wilson was killed. Kovic says he was the last one out, and he thinks he might have killed him. The officer says it is hard to tell what is happening. The officer says he does not think he killed him and tells him to carry on.
In January 1968 American soldiers are deployed in a field advancing slowly. A black soldier says this must be hell because of the heat. One soldier is shot in his helmet and falls. They take cover. The officer orders them to move forward. Kovic is shot in the foot and goes down. He struggles to his knees and shoots his rifle. A helicopter tries to guide them and goes down, exploding. Kovic is shooting until his rifle jams. Then he is shot in the shoulder, falls back, and coughs up blood. The black soldier comes to him, picks him up, and carries him on his back.
At night at a helicopter airport Kovic is being carried on a stretcher. He is taken to a tent where men are seriously wounded and are being treated. A man asks how he is and says the doctors are busy right now. He tells him to stay alive and that he came to give him his last rites. Kovic says he is ready, and the chaplain quotes scripture.
At the Bronx Veterans Hospital in 1968 a nurse tells everybody to get up. A patient sees a large rat on the floor that he is feeding. Kovic has gotten into his wheelchair and is taken to the bathroom. Naked men are being hosed down. Kovic says he thinks he is ready, and he learns it is July 4.
Kovic watches TV and sees the protesters in Chicago during the Democratic Convention. He tells others to shut up. He sees them burning the American flag and says they should love America or leave it.
Kovic does pull-ups.
A doctor tells Kovic that he will never walk again and probably will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He asks if he could have children, and the doctor says no. Kovic says he will walk again.
Kovic with leg braces struggles to walk while holding on to bars. A black nurse tells him that it is a white-man’s war. If he is not part of the solution, he is part of the problem.
Kovic at night in bed hears a man getting sexual favors from a woman.
Kovic walks with two canes with his legs in braces by using his arms and dragging his legs. He falls down, and the nurse finds that his leg is bleeding.
Men in wheelchairs are dressed in white pajamas, and Kovic stands up and walks normally. He starts running. In bed he realizes it was a dream.
Kovic has long hair and a mustache. He calls nurse Washington and complains he has been in his own vomit and shit. He asks for the doctor and says he wants to be treated like a human being. Kovic says he wants his leg. He says he fought for his country and is a Vietnam veteran. The black orderly says he does not care about Vietnam. Kovic tells a doctor that he wants to keep his leg, and that is why he has been strapped into the bed for four months. The doctor says he will try to rig up a substitute and will look in the basement. He promises to come back soon. Kovic sees the blood he is losing and screams.
Ron arrives home and is helped by his father. His brothers Tommy Kovic (Josh Evans) and Jimmy Kovic (Jamie Talisman) come out and welcome him. Ron tells his mother that she looks beautiful, and she kisses him. Friends come to him and shake hands with him.
In the house he uses a wheelchair. His father says he built a shower for him and put handles by the toilet. Ron thanks him and looks at a photo of himself as a wrestler. He says it is great to be back in his room, and his father hugs him.
At Boyer Burger his friend Steve Boyer (Jerry Levine) tells Ron about his restaurant business. He has the girls wearing mini-skirts. Ron moves around in his wheelchair, and Steve offers him a job there. Ron asks what he would do. Steve says he could start as a cashier. Ron says he gets $1700 a month from the government, and Steve calls that charity. Ron says people treat him differently because of the war. Steve says they got the shit kicked out of them, and he asks what it was for but lies.
At dinner Ron tells his parents that people are dying over there, but here people are demonstrating. He says those on the other side are angry because we are not winning. His sister tells him that Tommy does not believe in the war. Ron asks what he believes. The mother says Tommy is hanging out with long-hairs. Ron tells his brother to love it or leave it. Tommy says they do not want people coming back like him. Ron asks him what is wrong with him as Tommy goes out. Ron says he can’t believe what Tommy said to him.
Ron is putting on his shoes, and his father tells him the parade is there for him.
On July 4, 1969 at Massapequa people parade down the main street as people watch and wave. Ron rides in the back of a special car with his name on it. Ron flinches as firecrackers go off.
People listen to a patriotic speech by a man from the American Legion. A banner welcomes Ron Kovic home. He is introduced, and people applaud him on his birthday. Kovic says Vietnam is not an easy situation; but the morale over there is high, and they will win that war. He tells them not to feel sorry for him. He has his hands and his heart. He hears a helicopter and pauses. Two men come to him and help him move away from the microphone. His parents help Ron. He sees his friend Timmy (Frank Whaley) who has long hair and a mustache. They hug, and Ron asks when he got back. Timmy suggests they leave there, and he pushes the wheelchair.
Mrs. Kovic is watching TV and laughs.
On the porch Ron talks with Timmy about twins. Timmy says when one got killed, the other signed up and got killed too. They laugh, and Timmy says the town was devastated. Ron asks Timmy when he got hit. Timmy says it was bad and crazy, shooting at anything that moved. Ron says he was shot on January 20 in the foot and kept on fighting like he was in the woods again. Then he heard a crack behind his right ear. He says the hospital was really bad. Timmy says he gets bad headaches at night. Ron says that he felt he failed because he killed someone by mistake. Timmy says they all made mistakes; it was insane over there. Ron says he was paralyzed and castrated that day. He would give everything to get his body back again, and he will never get it. Timmy says he is alive; he made it.
Ron is on a train and gets off in Syracuse. At the station Donna sees him in the wheelchair, and they smile at each other. She takes his hand and hugs him.
A woman is singing, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” while Ron and Donna talk at a table. She says his letters had a lot of feeling. She is sorry what happened to him. She was shocked when she heard. She wanted to reach out to him. Jeff reminds her about a meeting. She says she is on the organizing committee about Kent State. She says she remembered the poster of the children who were killed at My Lai. She says war is so wrong, and she has to do something.
Outside demonstrators sing and hear speeches by candle-light. Donna tells Ron that if he talks about his experiences, people would really listen to him. He reminds her about “Moon River” and the dancing. He says he promised himself that he would come back and love her forever. Jeff tells her that the reverend cannot speak tomorrow and asks who they can get. She says she will find someone. She asks Ron if he wants to come, and he says maybe they will talk later. She goes inside.
The next day Abbie Hoffman (himself) is speaking at a student strike and rouses the students. Police warn them that they must disperse. An African-American with an Afro speaks and throws away his combat medals. Ron is listening and thinking. Police in helmets with clubs move in and use tear gas. They beat some students. Ron tries to move his wheelchair and calls to Donna. People shout, “The whole world is watching.”
A rock band plays, and people dance. Kovic has a mustache again and long hair and talks with guys playing pool. He says they should write a song about Vietnam getting under your skin. He tries to sing about what went wrong in Vietnam. Timmy tells him to take his shot. A man asks if people are supposed to feel sorry for him because he is in a wheelchair. The man says he was at Iwo Jima, and they lost 5,000 men on the first day. He tells him he is a marine. Ron asks Timmy who this guy is and calls him an asshole. The veteran implies that Ron is a traitor, and Ron hits him. Timmy tells Ron he is not worth it. Ron asks Jenny to go to Mexico with him tonight. He says she is beautiful. She says he is crazy. Ron shakes his upper body to the rock music and falls out of his wheelchair on the floor. He says he wants to dance.
Outside Steve helps Ron in his front yard. Ron goes in the house, and his mother asks if he is drunk again. He picks up a cross and says that is what she believes in. He wishes he were dead like him. His father helps him and asks him to take his mom seriously. Ron imitates a drill sergeant training people to kill. She tells him to go to bed and sleep it off. She says he needs help. He is waking up the neighborhood. He says, “Fuck you,” and she slaps him. He cries about what they did to the whole country. He says they shot women and children. He tells his mom, “Thou shalt not kill.” She says she wants him out of the house. He says it is falling apart—King, Kennedy, and Kent State. He asks his father to tell her it is a lie. He says there is no God and no country. He pulls out the tubes of his catheter and shouts the word “penis.” He says it is gone in a jungle in Asia. He says he is sorry that she is sad as she is crying. His father puts him to bed and connects the catheter. He suggests maybe a trip to Mexico is what he needs. He asks Ron what he wants. Ron says he wants to be a man again. He asks who is going to love him.
At Villa Dulce, Mexico in 1970 at a beach resort people are playing poker and drinking. Charlie (Willem Dafoe) asks Ron his name, and they start talking. Charlie says he is never going back to the States. He says the women would not even look at him. In Mexico he says the women will be with them if they use their tongue.
Ron is drinking at a table while a band plays and sings. A woman asks him if he wants to go upstairs. He says no and then yes.
In the room she says her name is Maria Elena (Cordelia Gonzalez), and she strips to her panties. She asks him for the money, and she takes what is good. She takes off her panties and lies next to him. She asks him to take his clothes off, and he says he is paralyzed and has no feeling below his waist. She says they will have a good time and kisses him. He says she is pretty and feels her body with his hands. She moans with pleasure, and she licks his chest.
Later Ron goes outside, and a guy asks him how it was. Charlie tells him that she loves him. He advises him to keep one hand on her tits and the other on his wallet.
Ron in his wheelchair goes window shopping and asks to see something at a religious store.
Ron sees Maria Elena come down the stairs with a man who says he will be back tomorrow. She asks Ron if they are getting married today, and he says that would be great. He sees prostitutes soliciting business, and he hires one.
Ron lies on his back in bed and remembers Vietnam. He sits at a desk and writes a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Wilson that he knew their son in Vietnam. He asks for a bottle. Charlie in a wheelchair is quarreling with a woman.
Charlie and Ron are riding in the backseat of a car. Charlie shouts at the driver, and Ron tries to stop him from hitting him. The cab driver leaves them on the road in their wheelchairs, and they wonder what they will do. Ron says they have to get back to the village. Charlie asks if he ever had to kill a baby. Charlie says he never put his soul into that war. Ron says he does not have to talk about it. Charlie asks if he is better than others. He says Ron wasn’t even there. He asks what Ron is hiding. Ron asks Charlie if he killed a baby. They curse and spit at each other. They start to fight and fall out of their wheelchairs and roll on the ground. A Mexican stops his car and says he will give them a ride. Ron asks Charlie if he is all right. He asks him if he remembers things that made sense. He asks what are they going to do.
Ron is on a bus and gets off in Armstrong, Texas. He goes to a cemetery and finds the tombstone of William Wilson who died on October 12, 1967. He sits in his wheelchair and looks at it as he remembers his conversation with the officer about whether he killed him.
A cab brings Ron to an old house in the country. Mr. Wilson (Tony Frank) tells him that the dogs won’t bite. Ron in his wheelchair shakes his hand. In the house Mrs. Wilson (Jayne Haynes) gives Ron tea, and Mr. Wilson talks about the Vietnam War. He says they have a tradition in that town of fighting in American wars. He says they will do it again if they have to. Mrs. Wilson says they don’t really know what happened to their son. They were told that Billy distinguished himself in the fight and that he died very quickly. Ron says he was his squad leader but did not know him very well. He asks if he is their only son. Ron remembers that he was married and that his wife was pregnant. She nods. He says it was a confusing patrol, and they had killed babies by mistake. Then it got really crazy, and they had to pull back from the North Vietnamese Army. He says that is when it happened. He was confused and scared. He raised his rifle and fired shots. Mr. Wilson says they don’t have to hear this. Ron tells them that he was the one who killed their son that night. He cries, and his wife says what is done is done; she can never forgive him, but maybe it will work out. Mrs. Wilson says they understand the pain he has been going through.
At the Republican convention in Miami Vietnam Veterans Against the War march in a parade. Ron chants with them that they do not want the “fucking” war.
On television Nixon is giving his acceptance speech for the nomination.
On the floor Ron says the war is a crime, and officials try to keep the protesters from coming in. Ron says he is a Vietnam veteran and that this war is wrong. He says those people had a long struggle of resistance, fighting for their independence for a thousand years. He says this government sickens him. He says he loves America but not the government. He says they are there because they don’t have to take it anymore. He says they will never let the American people forget this war. He says their wheelchairs are their steel come home. They chant to stop the war and stop the bombing. A TV journalist says there is a disturbance on the floor, but they don’t know what it is. The Republican delegates shout at the protesters. Nixon continues to speak and asks them to honor and respect the veterans of Vietnam.
Outside Ron is told that he is under arrest. He is taken out of his wheelchair and falls on the ground. He says he is paralyzed, and two men drag him. Police are trying to arrest the demonstrators. A man has rescued Ron, and he asks for his chair. They put him in his wheelchair, and they tell him that they arrested thirty people. Ron says they are going to take the hall back, and he leads them in that direction. Police try to stop the crowd.
Four years later in 1976 at the Democratic convention in New York City people listen to a speech by Congressman Ron Dellums. Backstage men ask Ron if he is ready. One pushes his wheelchair toward the speaker’s platform. He remembers his mother’s dream about speaking to a large crowd and other experiences from childhood. An Asian journalist asks what he is going to say, and he says he will tell the truth. He signs a copy of his book. A black woman asks him how it feels to speak to the whole country. He says he feels like he is home. The band plays as he wheels forward.
This biopic portrays a young man who wants to serve his country in the military; but he experiences the suffering of war and realizes how wrong and devastating the Vietnam War was for so many people. His naïve patriotism is turned into real courage as he struggles for peace with nonviolent and persuasive methods.