Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

by

Ben Fountain

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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Billy grabs a plate and takes in the sight of the sixty-foot-long buffet, he feels as though he's going to be sick. The "club" is where the country club crowd spends the day at the game, though the room is horrendously decorated and looks more like a 1970s hotel than an expensive club. The place makes Billy feel horrible, and he thinks he's allergic to rich people. When Bravo entered the club, the patrons rose and applauded. The manager, a disgustingly greasy man, shows Bravo to their table. The rich civilians’ stares make Billy feel woozy, but a glance from Dime settles him.
Like verbally thanking soldiers for their service, applauding when Bravo enters the room is an easy way for the civilians to support the troops. In reality, however, kind words and clapping do very little to actually support them. Billy's discomfort highlights his modest upbringing and makes it clear that this abundance of wealth is foreign and almost vulgar to him.
Themes
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
After Bravo is settled, Josh announces he has to leave. He jokingly promises to try to get the Bravos lap dances from the cheerleaders before he slips away. Dime tells the Bravos that each soldier can have one beer with lunch. Billy sits near Dime and Albert so that he can listen to their conversation and hopefully learn something. Before he starts eating, he thinks about where Shroom and Lake would sit. Billy considers the other rituals he follows, and reasons that none of them matter since everything in life seems random. He remembers standing guard once and feeling a pop on his nose—it was a bullet that barely missed him.
Billy recognizes that rituals such as prayers are a means for people to try to make sense of the world and feel as though they have more control over it. Although he tries to take comfort in these rituals (such as deciding where Shroom and Lake would sit), Billy's experiences have shown him that life and the war aren't controllable or logical. Instead, life and the war are random and unexplainable, just like the bullet that barely missed his nose.
Themes
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Billy muses that dodging bullets in Iraq and the memories in his head feel more real than eating in Texas. He thinks of Lake and his two missing legs, but Dime calls Billy's attention back to lunch. Albert declares that he'll miss Bravo, and Crack urges Albert to visit them in Iraq. Albert objects and admits that the only reason he went to law school was to escape going to Vietnam. He remarks on the hypocrisy of the fact that all those in charge of the war—Bush, Cheney, Rove—all got out of military service. Albert declares that these politicians should be just as protective today's young men as they were with themselves.
Here, Albert becomes the voice of reason by pointing out the hypocrisy of those in charge of the war, such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Karl Rove. The hypocrisy these men demonstrate shows that they don't view the soldiers as fellow humans. Rather, the soldiers are disposable and simply support a political vision.
Themes
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The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
When Albert first contacted Bravo, they were confused. When they researched Albert, they discovered that he'd won three Best Picture Oscars and produced one of the greatest flops of all time. In the present, Albert watches as patrons of the club stop to pay their respects and marvels at the fact that everybody loves Bravo. He explains that the studios are pushing back on the film because they don't understand what Bravo went through. When his phone buzzes, Albert picks up and says immediately that Hilary is interested. The conversation then turns to the political nature of the film. Albert insists that this movie must be political, and further, that the politics of this particular film are about making people feel good about America.
Because Albert is in Hollywood, it makes sense that he picks up primarily on these performative displays of "love" and "support," even though these experiences are uncomfortable and unsatisfying to actual soldiers like Billy. Though Albert insists the studios don't understand Bravo and the war, it can be argued that he doesn't understand either. He doesn't seem aware that these grateful citizens are wearing on Billy and are showing their support in meaningless ways. Instead, he's too focused on the spectacle of the civilians’ support, perceiving it as potential support for his film.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
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As Albert hangs up, he explains that accountants run Hollywood these days and promises to secure funding for the film no matter what. Billy and some of the other Bravos go back to the buffet for seconds, and patrons wave them to the front of the line. Billy's hangover is better, and now when he looks at the food, it looks luxurious. He reasons that the point of civilization is beautiful food and private bathrooms. Bravo starts giggling as they walk back to their table, but Dime angrily shushes them when they arrive. They soon learn that Dime is angry because Universal Studios verbally committed to the film, provided that the story relocates to World War II.
Universal Studios' proposal is a very overt example of the fact that truth matters very little in Hollywood. Technically, the film would still be "based on a true story" even if the story were to be transposed to World War II. However, removing the context of the Iraq war means that the film producers and writers would be able to avoid having to consider the difficult questions about how the Iraq War should be portrayed.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Billy thinks about what once Shroom said about Dime—that he's a master of the psyche—and again loses himself in thinking about how Shroom spent his leisure time smoking and reading. Shroom and Dime seemed to know everything about each other, which puzzled Billy, and Shroom would tell everyone that he loved them before they went outside the wire (off the base). Again, Billy fixates on how Shroom foretold his death and remembers shooting at the insurgents while trying to administer first aid to Shroom.
As a mentor, Shroom encouraged Bravo to acknowledge their feelings and engage with each other as vulnerable human beings—not the hallowed, prop-like heroes the American public views them as. Seeing Dime through Shroom's eyes suggests that Dime might not be punishing Billy but could be grooming him for a task yet to come.
Themes
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Dime begins snapping at Bravos for no apparent reason when Albert passes him the phone to read an outlandish text from someone in Hollywood. Dime asks if they're screwed, and Albert explains that Hollywood is like the court of Louis XIV in that you can't go straight to the king; you have to get someone else's support first.
By comparing Hollywood to an ostentatious French court, Albert reinforces that the home front is just as absurd as warzones in its own way. This follows Billy's curiosity about civilians at home. To him, they live strange and unimaginable lives, as do those in Hollywood.
Themes
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The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
An old man stops by to thank the Bravos for their service. He tells them about his oil company's new technology, explaining that he's trying to bring as much oil production home so that America can bring soldiers home faster. Then, the man asks the soldiers "how we're doing over there." Dime brightly replies that it's a mind-altering experience but insists that the Bravos love the violence. The man seems to deflate as Dime continues to expound on the Bravos' love of violence and their ability to efficiently kill, closing by telling the man to stick to his job, and his men will stick to theirs. The man shuffles away as the Bravos snicker, and Billy thinks that people shouldn't talk about what they don't know. Albert suggests that Dime look into acting after he gets out of the military.
The man refers to fracking, a controversial method of extracting oil and natural gases from the earth. Many environmentalists insist that fracking causes lasting damage to water, and, by extension, the communities that consume that water. The man's assertion that he wants to bring men home faster also implies that he believes the Iraq war is primarily about the fight for Middle Eastern oil, whereas the novel has already revealed that the reasons for the war aren't so easy to pinpoint. The man is, essentially, trying to simplify the war and make it seem logical, which Dime won't let him do.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Dime berates Billy some more, and Billy recalls the day that Lake was injured. Billy had lost all composure, and Dime shoved him in a supply closet. Dime cried with Billy, and after a minute, Dime said he was proud of Billy and kissed him on the mouth. Billy's lips were sore for days after, and Dime never mentioned the event. He wonders how that moment will play out in the movie if Hillary Swank plays both Dime and Billy.
Again, the emotional reality of the war is exceptionally strange, and Billy's thought process suggests that this experience is impossible to understand. The kiss is, however, indicative of the assertion that trying experiences lead to these intense and highly emotional connections.
Themes
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Dime orders another round of beers, and Billy decides to find the restroom. As he washes his hands, he remembers a childhood classmate who acted strangely after surviving a car crash that killed two of his friends. He always did strange things, and nobody questioned him. Billy often thinks about him when he looks in the mirror these days.
When Billy connects his own experience to that of his childhood classmate, Billy recognizes that he probably doesn’t seem normal in civilians’ eyes, just as his former classmate was perceived as strange.
Themes
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
In the hallway, Billy runs into Mango and a waiter. Both look suspicious, and Mango invites Billy to smoke marijuana with them. The waiter, Hector, leads them to a hidden outdoor deck. As they pass the joint around, Hector asks if they're concerned about passing drug tests, and Mango jokes that it's not like they can threaten to send them back to Iraq. When Hector very seriously says that the Army wouldn't do such a thing, Billy and Mango exchange a glance before explaining that they're already scheduled to return. Hector seems genuinely scandalized. He asks about the potential movie and starts to ask what happens if they die in Iraq. They pass the joint around again, and Billy feels as though the war is distant.
Hector is one of the few figures in the novel who attempts to do something meaningful to support the troops. Here, he helps Billy and Mango take the edge off and treats them like normal young men, not superhuman trophies. However, Hector also views the Bravos as heroes, indicating that he has bought into the rhetoric that the government promoted to rally support for the war.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Hector asks if Bravo is going to meet Destiny's Child, and Mango laments that nobody has told them anything—they don't even know if they'll get to meet the cheerleaders. Hector insists that everyone meets the cheerleaders and says that they should absolutely get to meet Destiny's Child. Billy wonders if he'd have sex with Beyoncé given the chance but decides he'd rather hang out, get to know her, and have sex. He wonders if the war has made him more interested in the "entire-body-soul connect," or if he's just getting older.
Given the emotional connections that Billy formed with Shroom, Dime, and the rest of Bravo, it's likely he simply craves an intimate and emotional connection with a girlfriend as a result of needing community to survive in a warzone. Notably, Billy's daydream also shows that he thinks of Beyoncé as a person, not just a celebrity, which contrasts with the way that the civilians view Bravo as heroes, not human beings. 
Themes
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Hector mentions that he's thinking of joining the Army, explaining that he has a daughter whose mother doesn't work and neither of his jobs provide insurance. He says that the Army is offering a $6,000 enlistment bonus and insurance. Billy is pained to learn that the Army is offering bonuses to others when they got him for free. They all decide that the Army sucks, but Mango remarks that life won't be much better when he gets out.
All three young men recognize that as members of the lower class, there's little opportunity for them to move up in the world. In turn, this entices people like Hector to join the Army in order to obtain basic services and a steady income for his family, even though it also puts him in danger of dying.
Themes
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon