Friday, June 6, 2014

Flick Pick: Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan
(Paramount, 1998)

The other possible choice for today was The Longest Day, but the competition isn't even close. While the main plot for this movie was fiction, loosely based on the story of the real-life Niland brothers, the D-Day landings that took place seventy years ago today were real, and the opening scenes of this movie inarguably did a better job presenting that event on film than any movie has before or probably ever will, unless someone invents an actual time machine, goes back, and films it. When your movie triggers PTSD spikes in veterans from 40 years beforehand, you've come pretty damned near to nailing the thing.
The rest of the movie is similarly epic, presenting from a fictional perspective any number of events that had to have happened to thousands of our guys throughout the entire Normandy campaign: killing and being killed, far too often and frequently randomly, carnage, fear, cold, misery, confusion, and the endless soul-killing calculus of having to trade friends in order to win a war, and trying to stay human amidst that.
Some day before I die, I want to travel to Normandy, and stand - or crawl - on the beaches in question at the surf line on a cold gray June dawn, or walk inland down the same roads and across the same fields and hedgerows one summer, and try to get some vague appreciation for what it must have been like to do that while Nazis were trying to shoot you or blow you to pieces. Until I do, this movie is about as close as I can get. Watching it today, as I imagine walking the actual scenery would, invariably causes the dust level in the room to increase when I consider the actual realities the film portrays. There are still a couple of scenes I simply can't watch, even after seeing this film numerous times. They deservedly gave Spielberg his second directing Oscar for this film, and they gave out far too many Purple Hearts to the actual cast on the actual day, for anyone not to be so moved.

Back in the latter days of the Cold War, some clever Eurotrash "sophisticates" sagely advised that America wasn't really going to face down the Soviet Union, because everyone over there knew "the Americans would never trade Pittsburgh or Peoria for Paris".
The opening scenes in this movie of the Normandy American Cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer has 9387 crosses and stars in near endless rows and echelons that put the lie to that bit of sophistry forever. And the names of 1557 more inscribed on a wall nearby, because we either couldn't find their parts, or properly identify them afterwards. They include three Medal of Honor recipients, two sons of one US president from separate World Wars, and the two Niland brothers killed in action in Normandy. So we've already traded Pittsburgh and Peoria for Paris.
Twice, last I checked.

I have my doubts about my parents' being any such "Greatest Generation". But I can definitely point you to the final resting places of some thousands of the greatest guys you'll never meet again, and for their sacrifice, I will ever be in appreciative awe.

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