Friday, November 13, 2009

Saving Private Ryan

The most interesting thing I took away from Saving Private Ryan is the character of Corporal Upham, aka the coward.

In a movie (and a theme) filled with strength and heroism and brotherhood, it is Upham who stands out, because his presence asks the question none of us really know, how would WE be when faced with that kind of pain, chaos and destruction?

I have no doubt that the majority of soldiers, when it came to the crunch, did the 'right' thing and fought courageously to their end. There are millions of men with the strength of character to do this. These men are the reason we mark our war memorial holidays with such respect. They were thrown into a world that was nothing like they had ever known, they watched their friends' heads blown off next to them and had to step over the body. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of scene except your own backbone, and thankfully there *are* a lot of men with such strength.

But....and it's a big but, there are many other types of people who WOULD lose the plot and become a whimpering mess on a staircase like Upham. It'd be nice to think we'd all rush into the face of death without a moment's thought, but think about how many news reports we hear about someone being attacked in a public place and no one stood up. Some people handle the death of a spouse or child with a quiet sadness, others go completely hysterical and never recover. It is this kind of fundamental difference between people and their coping skills that we never really see in War movies or even think about. We expect to see heroes, taking orders no matter what. But as Upham shows, not everyone who went over there had the ability to handle the absolute hell that is war. Upham isn't stupid, he knows what he should have done, but he was too afraid to die. He was a soft, not so brave intellectual who simply lost the plot when the crunch became crunchy.

As for the movie itself, I liked it, but wasn't in awe or completely absorbed. The idea is interesting....the question of sacrifice, and whether it was fair or ridiculous to (potentially) sacrifice 6 men to spare a woman the loss of four instead of three sons. Most reviews I see focus on the value of Private Ryan's life, and even the Captain at the end tells him basically to be worth all the effort, but the decision was never about Private Ryan! The decision was made to spare his mother from more pain - to spare a civilian from the effects of war, not to save the man himself from death. Ryan and the other men only focus on his worthiness, but it's irrelevant, because the nature of war means that every soldier is fodder - they fight for us, not themselves.
Their mission was ultimately a microcosm of war and Private Ryan was the personification of the justifications OF the war - fight for the people in your country to keep them safe.

In the end, the movie is confronting and thankfully not too sentimental. It lacked something for me, but maybe just a matter of taste.

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