A recent class discussion brought back memories and feelings aroused in me in regards to two war films that came out before the dawn of the new millennia – Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line.”
Both films took their individual approach to war. “Ryan” assaulted its viewers with raw violence and gore on a physical level, whereas “Thin Red Line” was a more poetic, distanced view of war focusing on the psychological horrors of individuals, opposed to the mass slaughter of nameless soldiers.
In my class, by discussing the different personal effects of violent imagery, we came to the conclusion that bombarding someone with vivid pictures of violence is ineffective in comparison with putting oneself in the mind of the victim. Soon after, Randall Wallace’s “We Were Soldiers,” followed the grotesque method while David O’Russell’s “Three Kings” took an interesting sociopolitical tone in the psychological vein of expression.
The psychological horror of the soldier of Malick’s films is in some ways reiterated in Sam Mendes’ most recent film, “Jarhead.” The film complicates the notion of psychological turmoil by focusing on the contemporary foot soldier’s struggle in realizing that they have become obsolete.
Times have changed significantly since the release of the first two films previously mentioned, and as evident in much of the media, the nation’s focus has gravitated even further from the idea of warfare. Our only contact with the war is the daily listings of soldiers killed by suicide bombers in 30-second segments on our 24-hour news stations.
These days, there is more energy being focused on stardom – people like Paris Hilton and other pop icons – rather than what’s really going on in the world. I appreciate that Mendes is using the cinema as a political forum, which is something that doesn’t seem to be done quite as often. I appreciate that he realizes society’s desire to see celebrities in film, while also trying to affect his viewers once they have been lured in by these actors.
Sometimes it seems we are a nation addicted to the lives of celebrities and their petty interactions. We seem to forget there is a war going on. Kids our age have to deal not only with the physical dangers of battle, but also the psychological boredom, dissipating relationships with loved ones and the notion that they may be killed thousands of miles away from home.
Perhaps the celebrity-praising crowd will go to a film like “Jarhead” and attempt to empathize, but may miss the point entirely, becoming lost in Jake Gyllenhaal’s eyes.
Oleksa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.