Saving Private Ryan (1998) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Growing up in the early 80’s, the scars of Vietnam were still very new and raw to many people.  Although the conflict had ended more than a decade before my birth, for the people that fought in the war, dealing with the horrors they saw took many years to get over. One way many people coped with their feelings was writing the experiences down in either a book, article or screenplay.  By the late 70’s and 80’s Hollywood was churning out Vietnam pictures at a consistent rate.

Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill and Born on the 4th of July and many more films all shared a tone of dread and sorrow.  At the same time WWII movies were in a lull and the only films that were shown often were from an earlier time in Hollywood that often (but not always) were watered down.

I was a student of history, loved WWII and found the time period endlessly fascinating.  We came together as a nation to battle a truly horrible cause and make the world a safer place.  We were right and just in this war and everyone involved was a larger than life hero like John Wayne.  The truly awful stuff of the war like the holocaust and the Death Marches was a vague thought and the actual battlefield didn’t seem as scary as Vietnam. I embarrassingly had this stupid opinion until I was 16 and saw Saving Private Ryan. This movie opened my eyes to what the war truly was like and I was embarrassed that I had such a rosy look on World War II.

Much has been written about the opening beach storming scene and it is as good as remembered.  While there is no way to truly depict this situation, I believe that no other director could have done better than Spielberg.  The way he throws all his traditional shots, tricks and direction by the side and shoots the beach scene in a way totally foreign to his style was risky and commendable.  He is typically known for steady camera pans, sweeping vistas and beautifully framed shots, Spielberg here goes with close up shots and handheld jerky camera movements.

He makes the scene chaotic, horrifying and is an experience that leaves the viewer tired and out of breath. The fear and helplessness these men who stormed all the beaches on D-Day must have been off the charts and seeing a movie in no way is close to the same, but for Spielberg giving the viewer the tiniest of taste of the bloodshed that day earned Spielberg his Oscar for this film.  Yet he does something else with this film that is just as amazing and it is unfortunately overlooked now when compared to the opening of the film. Spielberg made the men fighting in the war human and recognizable.

The older movies about WWII had Charlton Heston, William Holden and Steve McQueen playing heroes with a capital H.  They were larger than life and had missions that were important to the fate of the world.   Tom Hanks, playing Captain John Miller stripped all the extra heroism out of his character and made him a man just trying to survive.  While he had a mission to protect Private Ryan (Matt Damon) at all costs, his true mission was to get home to his wife in one piece. He wasn’t trying to kill Hitler personally or win the war single handily; he just wanted to make it to tomorrow.

Not to say he played the character as a sniveling coward, because Miller still runs into that gunfire and makes the tough decisions.  Yet he did these things as a typical man who was at one time frightened and mortal.  Instead of being a perfect hero who always made the right decisions and was never scared, Hanks played the characters as someone who could have been your grandfather or neighbor or even a man passing you on the street.

By combining the visceral first 30 minutes with characters that were very human, Saving Private Ryan helped shine the spotlight on a generation of men and women whose contributions were not forgotten but taken for granted.  This movie ushered in a time in our culture where we stopped to thank these people for the sacrifices they made before it was too late.  This shows the impact that this film had on us as a Country that it shifted us into gear to do things that should have been done years before.  Even though this film was robbed of the Best Picture Oscar. The fact that it made us grateful once again for this generation and was the biggest film of the year despite its graphic nature and depressing content speaks more on its impression  on the society and its quality than a little gold man ever could.

Unfortunately, both of my grandfathers died previous to this movie’s release so I never got to ask them about their experiences or let them know how in awe I was/am for what they did.  I want to take this space to say thank you to both Joseph Rinchiuso and Henry Palmer Jr. for what they did.  I also want to thank William Holford, Scott Elick, Jason Wallace, Michael Turner and (currently serving oversees) David Smith for continuing to serve this country over the years.

Posted by Ryan

Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

No comments yet.

Leave Your Thoughts!

No trackbacks yet.