Wednesday 7 September 2011

Saving Private Ryan - Jarhead - Blackhawk Down - The Counterfeiters

Notes on a few films I've watched this week.

Saving Private Ryan

It seemed different this time. I just felt sad. Whoever is shooting whoever, it's still eighteen year old's dying, y'know?

Everything about World War 2 is poignant to me. It's a constant in my life. If there's a story in the newspaper, or an exhibition in town, or I see an old guy walking down the street who could have been there -- it just deeply impacts me. I measure so much of my life against the weight of World War 2. The impact is a direct one. The privileges I have now have a direct correlation to the sacrifices made by those seventy-odd years ago. 

The opening battle of 'Saving Private Ryan' doesn't need character introductions. It doesn't need backstory. We know it. It's our grandparents, and our friend's grandparents. It's those forgotten people sitting in old people's homes, It's those names that line the graves all around the world, many who didn't get to live out their teens.

We get to really feel into so many different perspectives with 'Saving Private Ryan'. We see leaders who are scared, we see cowards who are brave, we see pride, anger, resentment, confusion. The same shit we feel every day except what we feel is nothing in comparison. I'm brave if I phone a big scary producer, I'm angry if my email server has problems. It's different now. 

My Grandfather was fighting in Europe. He risked everything for his country. I don't think I've ever risked anything for anyone. 


Iraq, what the hell is that about? Nobody really knows. One minute, the leader of a terrorist organization somewhere inside of Afghanistan is behind the deaths of 3,000 in New York City, and the next, we've killed a million civilians in Iraq. 

And Iraq was the same the first time. Well, I mean the first time out of the recent times. Iraq has been going on for a hundred years. 

"It's the British again. They have been bombing my family for over 80 years now. Four generations have lived and died with these unwanted visitors from Britain who come to pour explosives on us from the skies. It first began in 1920." 
-Quote from 'Postcolonialism', A Very Short Introduction. (book)

Jarhead takes place in Saudi Arabia in 1989, just before the Gulf War. It's about a group of marines, a sniper unit--- who find themselves waiting around for a mission, waiting for the chance to kill. 

Of course, Jarhead came out after the Iraq War (the recent one) - and it resonates. The marines are wondering, why are we really here? And the question of oil looms. But when you're a soldier you're a soldier, you're not a politician. You don't get to weigh up the good and bad, you just have to do your job. You're trained to kill. But that's the thing with modern wars, nobody really knows what's going on or why we're there. We send our soldiers out into the world and we trust they're being sent to the right places. And we hope they'll be okay. 

Blackhawk Down 

Why Iraq? Why not Sudan? Why Libya now and not Libya twenty years ago? These are the types of questions you always come across. We're all ignorant and clueless. Even people who know a lot about the different conflicts of the world, they're pretty clueless too. We can sit around intellectualising the benefits of invading certain countries, or peacekeeping, or whatever it is; but what do any of us know? When you watch 'Saving Private Ryan' you realize, unless you were there, you have no idea what it's like. And unless you're Libyan or Somalian, you have no idea what those regions are like. 

'Blackhawk Down' really brings home the way in which soldiers risk their lives in these horrible, war-torn environments. It's scary. It used to be one crazed dictator leading the masses with a belief system. Now it's militias and poverty and various factions of gangs. 

You see Blackhawk's getting shot down in 'Blackhawk Down', which was set in 1993, and you realise it's no different to being shot down in 1944. You turn on the news and a helicopter goes down in 2011. And this shit continuously cycles. A constant storm of death which is never going to end. 

The battles differ --- fascism, terrorism, genocide, etc. We send people in, they die. We don't send people in, people die anyway. Yet every time it happens, everyone thinks they're an expert. The leaders are so certain they've made the right decisions.

Films are just films, just something we get to watch as our backs rest on comfortable cushions -- but they help keep us awake to the horrors of the world. They keep us alert and give us perspective.

The Counterfeiters 

We think of Nazi's as bad, and the Western Allies as good. Or we think of Nazi's as bad, and the Jews as good. But 'Schindler's List' showed us that to have been in the Nazi Party doesn't mean you're not human. Likewise, The Counterfeiters shows the diversity within the Jews who were held captive. The two main characters in the film -- one is counterfeiting money for the Nazi's so that they won't kill him, whereas his campmate sabotages every attempt because on principle he doesn't want to help the German war effort. Both are right. Both are wrong. What would you do in that situation? Don't even begin to answer unless you've been in a concentration camp, because you don't have a clue.

"What I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"
-Frank Costello, 'The Departed'

Why do we watch these films? I'm drawn to them, but not for the reasons I thought. Years ago, I found it heroic. The sacrifices made by greater men than me is something I found very profound. But now, it's something different. It's a window -- a window into a world that is real and prevalent, but not something I'll ever experience.

The over-riding thing for me is a sadness. War to me is insane. I feel like Yossarian in' Catch 22'. Baffled. I have friends in the forces, I have friends whose friends have died in the recent conflicts. I'm sure it's the same for you. I don't know why we have so much conflict, and I don't know why we make the films or why we're compelled to watch them. One thing I know, which we've already begun to see, is that films shouldn't just be made by the victors. They shouldn't just be products of Hollywood. That's why 'The Counterfeiters' and 'Das Boot' and 'Downfall' are so interesting. They're Germany digging into their own history. Films can help drive society forward, they can help deep, traumatic tales be told, and they can bring marginalized voices to the fore.

In 'Blackhawk Down', the story of the American forces is only one part of the story. What is the story of the Somalian Militia? What is the story of the eight year old Somalian boy who joins the conflict? What is the story of the Mother whose children are killed by the battles? Every film will be selective. Just like every individual. We see conflict from the position that suits us the most, with the certainty that we're in the right.

The world is complicated.

Care to share?

1 comment:

  1. Haven't seen any of those, but I'm watching Black Hawk Down tonight. Thanks!