Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Saving Private Ryan


Possibly the best war movie ever made. I can’t think of a real rival. The opening scenes of the landing on Omaha Beach at Normandy on D-Day are so harrowing I was breathing hard by the time it was over. It is filmed newsreel style, and you are right down there in the sand with those poor boys, watching them get slaughtered. One stunning thing: We begin with a Higgins boat full of soldiers, very quiet except for some who are throwing up from seasickness and fear. Then they reach the beach, the ramps falls down … and they are all shot to pieces by German machine gun fire. They never even reach the beach! We see men sinking beneath the weight of their equipment, drowning, bullets whizzing into the water and drawing blood. Spielberg hired at least twenty actual amputees so their stumps could be covered with mangled flesh and bone. Then it’s onto the beach. I cannot imagine what it would be like to charge into that hail of lead. I’m so grateful that these men did, so I didn’t have to.

It is impossible to top that scene, which may be the only real problem with the movie. There is an awful scene involving a bombed-out house and a French couple trying to give their little daughter to the G.I.s, with Tom Hanks sternly warning against it. And one of his men dies from his compassion. Then there is the final battle in town, which is really, really horrible, but nothing we haven’t seen before.

Oh, one thing I actually didn’t care for was the sub-plot of the clerk-typist dragooned into the mission, who becomes the voice of the Geneva Convention. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of Geneva … when you are back in camp. Sure, treat prisoners humanely, just as we hope our enemies will treat our POWs. But on the battlefield …? I suspect that very few prisoners were taken in the heat of battle. That even many if not most of those who surrendered were summarily executed rather than go to the bother of sending them back to the rear area. We see some of this here, but we also see Mr. Geneva Convention arguing that a German they captured should not be shot on the spot, something everyone else in the squad is in favor of. And I will tell you, had I been there I would have happily smoked the fucking Nazi, and I think any Captain worthy of his command would have, too. But Hanks lets him go, and it turns out tragically. It was all a little too neat.

The other absolutely most awful scene to watch is when the army car turns down that long country road and the mother looks out her window, sees it coming. There can be no possible good news from this. She goes to the porch, we see the four blue stars in the window. She knows one of them is about to turn gold, and she sinks to the ground. How could she know the news is much, much, worse than she could have imagined? I choke up just writing about it.