In my middle and high school years, I had a thing for war movies. From Saving Private Ryan to The Patriot and right on down the line to Pearl Harbor (don't judge me...I was 13 and thought I was going to marry Josh Hartnett). I couldn't get enough blood and guts, couldn't have too many cannon balls and firearms. Plus, America always WON, which was so awesome. Especially in the post 9/11 years, it was nice to see Amurrrica kickin' butt and takin' names, old school. Even when guys were blown up and had their guts hanging out and held their buddies hands while they died, it was all for a good cause, they were dying for something, and we, generations later, existed because of them. I loved when the soldiers in the movies talked about girls at home, or showed pictures of their girls at home, with their pretty hair, pining away for their very own soldier. Dang, how romantic! My perfect Friday night was spend with bowls of popcorn and my brothers and male cousins and neighbor boys watching all the man power on the screen. Something about a man in uniform, my grandmother always said.
I thought war movies were about glory and the amazing righteousness of America, that America in the end was always right. The bugles, the drummerboys, those amazing sounds of the battlecalls in the movies were nothing short of inspiring. Men fighting all together for a common good. I think that is what, in general, attracts people to movies made about war. That, and it's cool to see stuff blow up. And you know the actors aren't really dying. Awesome!!!!!
But something in me changed. I've become more sensitive, I upset much more easily. I still do have quite an affection for movies about war, but, now that I have matured, they frighten me much more than I ever thought they would. A few months ago I watched Saving Private Ryan, a movie I'd seen a dozen times. But I couldn't convince myself to enjoy it like I used to. Death seemed so real to me while watching; the fear and the stress is palpable. Perhaps I simply didn't understand life and the finality of death when I watched these movies as a teenager. Perhaps, because I had never been far away from home, I didn't understand what it meant to want to go back.
The particular scene that gutted me took place in the French countryside where the injured young medic, played by Giovanni Ribisi, dies in the field. When it becomes apparent that his injuries are too severe to be helped, Tom Hanks says, quietly, 'Tell us what you need. Tell us what you need." He asks for morphine. He knows that no one he is with, despite their best efforts, despite holding his head, despite gripping his hand, can do anything for him. "Oh God, I don't wanna die," he says, and the other soldiers quiet him, comfort him. "I wanna go home," he says, "I wanna go home." He cries out for his mother. Then he gets quiet, and then he dies. And as I watched this scene, I thought, oh God. How can anyone watch this? It is probably the most disturbing scene in almost any war movie I've seen.
But there's something beautiful about it, an honesty that, in the end, is what attracts me to movies about war. Isn't that what we would all want? In our last moment of life, to be with our momma, at home, safe, instead of scared and in pain in some country half a world away? In essence, war movies are one of the only genres where the emotions of people (mostly, because they're about war, men) can come across as raw, brutally honest, and completely moving. There's a scene toward the end of The Hurt Locker where Anthony Mackie's character is overcome with emotion, his nerves fried, and he says he's afraid he'll never get home. He's only got a few days left of his tour and he's convinced he'll die before he makes it to the end. And really, sometimes a war movie expresses what all of us feel inside (albeit in a violent, violent way): that we want to go home, and we just don't know how to get there. We want to be surrounded by peace and people we love. And if that is what you can take away from a movie about war, I think it's a damn good lesson to learn.
And, because I'm a glutton for pain and punishment, I'll keep watching war movies--the good ones (sorry Josh Hartnett)-- because they will remind me of what has been sacrificed, and they will make me grateful for my home and thankful to be alive. That, and ooo I LOVE and man in uniform. All sweating and dirty. Firing weapons.