Monday, October 18, 2004

NO SACRIFICE IN VAIN...

I have watched 'Saving Private Ryan' about five times, and not once has it failed to bring tears to my eyes. Of course, that's me because I am intimately interested in World War 2 history, and any good story from those frontlines can make me emotional. The other reason is that Cornelius Ryan's epic novel on D-Day, 'The Longest Day' was the first artifact of war I had to contend with when I was in school. The story inspired me so much that time that I will never ever forget the 101st US Airborne Division. The interesting thing about Saving Private Ryan- one may ask, why so much ado about saving one man? Many people thought that the movie was unrealistic because the mission was unrealistic, not to mention logistically wasteful; six men putting their lives at stake for one man, just because he is the last of his brothers to be living. I superficially agree with these critics, and I am sure that there must have been hundreds, if not thousands of mothers, who lost all their sons in the war. So why all the jazz about the mission, the man, and the movie?
The answer comes during a poignant scene when Captain John H Miller (Tom Hanks) explains it all. Quite simply, he says that the mission might sound ludicrous, but the fact is that he won't feel like going home to his wife if he doesn't complete it. For me, that's the reason the movie was made, to show how every mission and the most mundane of objectives fits in with the big picture. It's important to realise that without these 'mundane' objectives getting fulfilled, the big picture holds no promise at all. If the men and women who are entrusted with them don't hold them up in front of their soul, the struggle is as good as lost, in peacetime and in wartime. In my opinion, it's much more than merely following orders. We see this quality in the bravest people in history, many of whose stories won't be ever heard because they sacrificed their lives for freedom. For me, the movie is most interesting because it brings up the eternal conundrum of war (and peace): how does one man's life compare with the 'greater good' of society? But for people like John Miller, it was not a conundrum, but a simple duty, the failure to fulfil which would have made them feel unsatisfied throughout life. That the secondary school grammar teacher from rural Pennsylvania, wrenched from his simple life and thrown into the enforced throes of war, comes to terms with this conundrum, is as sobering and inspiring as anything can be.

My favourite scene? Just before the last battle, Miller and Ryan (Matt Damon) are reliving some of their memories. Ryan recalls a boisterous and hilarious situation with his brothers. Miller says that his wife used to say something about the rose garden. But when Ryan asks him to tell him that story, Miller says, 'No...I think I will keep that one for myself'. It's as if he knows that he is going to die, and wants to preserve one last shrad of private memory of his wife with him.

At this point, I suddenly remember one of my favourite quotes by T. S. Eliot. The quote is applicable to many of the central themes in human life, and certainly to one as soul searching as war and peace:
"We shall not cease to explore,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started,
and know the place for the first time"

4 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

One of my favorite movie reviews is a contrarian review of SPR here:

http://www.centerforbookculture.org/context/no1/white.html

I actually liked the movie mostly. I think the last thirty minutes tend to have a pornographic action-movie appeal that the first thirty minutes explicitly do not.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Sumedha said...

I couldn't handle the graphic scenes in SPR, I saw only the first half. Schindler's List is another gut-wrencher...I was crying all through.
The worst part is that these are true stories, or at least very close.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Chris: That was a very interesting 'review', if a little crass at times.

Sumedha: Oh yes! Schindler's List was a kind of catharsis for me too. If you haven't read it already, here is my post on it. Saving Private Ryan's opening ten minutes are unparalleled in the history of war movies. Spielberg shows it as it was. In the characteristic Spielberg style, the violence is extreme but never gratuitous.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Hirak said...

In the last scene Miller asks Ryan to
' .. earn it' and Ryan does and as a soldier.

7:47 PM  

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