No Saving Private Ryan's Nasty Sub-text.

Don't ask how I found this excellent deconstruction of Spielberg's movie which reveals yet another example of the awful pro-violence ethos that drives the American Entertainment industry.

I think that just about every American movie expresses the conviction that there's something beautiful about death. Especially violent death. It's in depicting death that our cinema can most be said to have a style. A flair of its own. This is true even of oughta-know-better directors like Martin Scorcese, and it's certainly true of the rag-tag rest.

This was written by novelist Curtis White - E@L is ordering a batch of novels from Amazon right now if Mainey doesn't have them put away for him specially at Kino - and it's great example of how to really look at a movie (or a book, or a TV show, or a blog).

The American Flag. The first and last images in this movie are of the American flag, translucent, brilliant, rippling in the wind.

How are we to understand this flag? Why is it in the movie? Is it ironic? I'll just go ahead and tell you, no, it's not ironic. Nothing in this film undercuts or asks us to think about the flag's traditional, weepy appeal. This movie is yet another announcement of the death of '60s style "thought." This is not Zabriskie Point, not Slaughter House Five, not Catch 22, and certainly not Castle Keep. This is The Big Chill take [infinity symbol].

Or is the flag present in this movie because, well, flags are always in WWII movies? It's a purely generic concession. That would be really stupid, were it the case. It is therefore very possibly the case.


On a similar note, E@L can't abide Mel Gibson ever since the Lethal Weapon series, where time and time again his character advocated using violence and unjustified aggressiveness to get his way. Modulated with "humour", in the form of Mel pulling faces and Director Donner doing little tricks... Think of how Mel's slapped some movie director around until his partner's daughter got her job back.

So the sub-text in LW, as in Private Ryan, is that violence in the solution to life's little (and big) problems. Not a particulary Christian, ahem, or socially responsible attitude from St Mel of The Passion, nor from St Stephen of Dreamworks...

Let's try if it works in Iraq. It didn't work so well in Vietnam.



Posted by: expat@large on Oct 03, 05 | 3:39 pm | Profile


I know this is going to get me in trouble, but the flag is there because Americans always want to see the flag! Democrat or Republican as an American you must get choked up when you see the flag and hear the Star Spangled banner. ( Well at least I do, especially since I gave a big chunk of my life to serving it!).

As for violence, well, like sex, it sells! If Americans would stop buying tickets to the movies then the directors would take notice, but Americans like to see other Americans kicking ass and taking names. That's why Delta Force was what I call , "The feel good movie of the 80's". Chuck Norris; kicking ass sending a bunch of damn Arabs to meet Allah; supporting Israel, what's not to like about that?

Posted by: Skippy-san on Oct 03, 05 | 6:41 pm

The flag is in Saving Private Ryan because most americans, especially military servicemen and women, feel a much deeper connection to that flag than other people of other nationalities feel about theirs. I'm saying this badly, but the American flag really is a symbol of what is best about the united states for tens if not hundreds of millions of people. Here's what the colors of theflag repersent:

White signifies purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.

We all need concrete symbols of what we aspire to be; the more they're shoved in our face, the better I say. Especially in today's world.

Posted by: MercerMachine on Oct 03, 05 | 8:12 pm

Skippy - LOL about Delta Force.

MM - did you read the review? It puts the flag thing in context. The question is not "Why do Americans love their flag?" but "Why is there a flag in the movie?"

Answer: for political and emotional reasons - to rouse the patriotic spirit, not for artistic ones such as those that might move the narrative forward or develop the characters in any useful way.

White implies that Spielberg is tricking you into thinking that not only is it OK to kill unarmed prisoners (the core take-home message of the film!) but that it is The American Thing and your patriotic duty to do so.

Since when was it Truth, Justice and Take No Prisoners?

White is trying to say something, as I am. He fails to see "purity and innocence" in advocating the killing of an unarmed man (in the movie) or as I do for that matter on the torturing and systematic abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay (and in sending prisoners to Egypt to be tortured there.) And in the My Lai massacre (see the link at the end of the post.)

[Aside: Just as I also fail to see evidence of the guiding hand of Mohamed in the suicide bombings in Bali.]

Therefore White says it is "stupid" that the flag is not presented in an ironic way, as it might have been in the other war-movies he mentions, because what it represents (your points) does not tally with the actual theme of the rest of the movie!

> Flag say: be nice.
> Movie say: kill unarmed people.



Anyway I only chose to cut and paste the flag section of the article because it wasn't too long, not to stand everyone's patriotic hairs on end!!

Since the the lesson of WWII, I have had no faith in symbols. Flags, Rising Suns, Swastikas...

I disagree with you vehemently there. Symbols group people uncritically and divide regions arbitrarily, and they can be all too easily misaligned through skillful propaganga as the critical faculties are swamped by emotional resonances.

Witness the ample evidence of the essentially UN-American message in "Saving Private Ryan" we have just discussed.

Witness you guys' responses to my innocent little post!

This is what amazes us non-Americans. Not that you love your flag, that's fine, but that when someone says "flag" your brains immediately seem to turn off...



Posted by: expat@large on Oct 03, 05 | 9:20 pm

Arguably, my brain was never really switched on. But calling your post 'innocent', well... as my granny used ta say, don't try an' bullshit a bullshitter. :)

Was the shooting of an unarmed prisonor in the movie glorified? Was it cast in such a light that a rational person would come away from it thinking 'hey, I guess it IS okay to shoot unarmed prisoners. Thanks for clarifying that, Spielberg!' I don't remember that. Mostly I remember soldiers trying to do their best in a completely fucked situation.

Sometimes people do completely fucked things in completely fucked situations.

The flag is there, if you'll allow me to expand and clarify on my opinion, to remind those Americans who never had to go to some fucked place and see burst bodies and humans reduced to near-animals that there are other Americans who have. And they did it, ostensibly, in defense of those ideals symbolized in the flag. That the case has been otherwise far too many times, including Iraq, is not the fault of the soldiers.

But a flag is just sewn cloth, unable to fail to live up to the symbol it repersents and unable to strive towards it.

So no, it is not an ironic symbol. But it is a bitter-sweet one. If you're really interested in knowing why the flag is there, that's at the core of it. Take it from a liberal American who has served in the US Army. It's a symbol of the sacrifices, physical, moral and spiritual, that were made.

Or at least that's what I think. Now I have to go back and watch SPR again just to make sure I'm not talking out the crack of my ass. thanks e@l for making me watch that depressing shit again. you're a real pal.

Posted by: MercerMachine on Oct 04, 05 | 12:35 am

No problemo. What are pals for? But you don't have to watch it. It's all told in the article I linked to.

Tom Hanks and crew capture a German soldier. Some want to kill him but the "coward" guy (pacifist? Christian?) says No! Later the German prisoner gets a knife and kills Tom Hanks! How bad is that? Then the "coward" gets balls and kills the German prisoner. Then the tanks come in yada yada...

The message that is SLAMMED HOME is that they should have killed the unarmed prisoner when had they first captured him...

That is The Plot of SPR, The Moral, not the four brothers things, that is just a device to provide a reason for their Odyssean wandering through France. He set up the guy who said "dont' kill him" as a coward because he chose to, to make the audience dislike and distrust him, so that his patently correct act came out as sin.

The point that White is making, I think, is that Spielberg is trying to tie this unpalatable premise with patriotism and the flag. It wasn't patriotism, it was untidy soldiering: the prisoner should have been properly restrained. Or maybe I am overreading White's point...

Anyway, I know I was made uneasy by the movie when I saw it, and this article finally put the finger on what it was that was unsettling. A moral dilemma resolved in a bad way, with a bad message. Technically great film-making though.

It could be argued that in a sense Spielberg is saying "We can do anything we like in a war, forego Geneva convention, etc, etc... because we are patriotic." Well didn't the Nazis do exactly the same thing, using the same justification?

You can't just put a flag of honour on something wrong and it washes away the sins. Well you shouldn't, because obviously you can...

Posted by: expat@large on Oct 04, 05 | 1:28 am

i suppose death has been glorified for a long ass time, probably while God was still wearing diapers.

i think the one film that gave me the closest relation to what you're talking about, i.e how American movies puts death in a beautiful context, is American Beauty. kickass if i do say so.

forgive me if i do not participate healthily in the discussion you're having boys, but all this American talk reminds me dreadfully of Mr. Muslim-Alco Septic Tanks.

E@L, from a proud employee at Kino, who loves what she does and wouldn't mind spending a monthly 10% of her paltry salary at the workplace itself, i gotta tell ya, the selection of DVDs at the store, is crap.

(but if you find something you like, i can always put it away for you anyhow. just let me know)

Posted by: Mainebabe on Oct 04, 05 | 4:35 am

Amercian Beauty was excellent, but if you saw it in Censorpore, I mean Singapore, you missed about 30% of the crucial plot twists!!

I think I defintely overstated White's point about the flag - I really wished I'd quoted a different part of his review instead of that bit, because the whole thing was particularly well argued.

The partiotic indignation I stirred up was really unintentional! I mean I have opinions, but it wasn't meant to be a post about that, but about how to analyse the sub-text of a movie!

The other links were were just where I had been surfin yesterday.

If you see any of Curtis White's novels on the shelves give me a blast.

Posted by: expat@large on Oct 04, 05 | 10:43 am


Notify me when someone replies to this post?
Submit the word you see below:

Powered by pMachine