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"Saving a Memory"
Dec. 11, 1998
Saving Private Ryan must be one of the greatest war movies of all time. Before going to watch the movie, I had heard that the first twenty minutes of the film were so breathtakingly realistic that one may not be able to finish the movie. My favorite movie genre is war movies, so I figured this would be a great film since it was directed by Spielberg. The systems of this film are amazing. Saving Private Ryan has so much that one could probably write a long time about this work of art. The thematic, narrative, mise-en-scene, sound, and a major twist of realism make this film the classic that it has become.
Saving Private Ryan opens and closes with an identical image--an American flag, waving in the wind. Given that we too often take images at face value, it\'s easy to figure this for half-ass patriotism. We must look more closely. This isn\'t standard-issue symbology. The flag is blasted out, bleeding of all colors. It signals that something fundamental has been lost forever. Saving Private Ryan is a patriotic film. How could it not be, possessed of such reverence for the suffering endured by so many soldiers in the defense of a nation? As difficult as it may be to distinguish between national pride and blind nationalism, Spielberg makes his film by insisting on visualizing an overwhelming sorrow at the loss of so much human life, and a similarly gratitude for the sacrifices that have been made. The flag in this certain frame represents everything worth fighting and living for, however, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Its mere presence in the frame insists that something else, perhaps something still more important, remains behind.
That "something else" may be America as a concept, the United States as an abstract entity worth dying for on the gruesome earth of another\'s land. The characters that Spielberg follows through the film spent time openly debating the validity of their missions. They run the numbers in a certain kind of math that counts lost human lives against the number of lives thus saved, justifying the good the death can serve.
If war strategies are mathematical, then Saving Private Ryan\'s opening is the epitome of chaos. Spielberg almost goes too far here. At the end of the movie, I was wondering if the first twenty minutes served a significant purpose. I finally came to a conclusion. This sequence is rightly praised for its\' grim depiction of the chaos and casualties of the invasion of Normandy. Spielberg\'s approach is to portray the confusion and violence of battle on a personal, not a tactical level. There are no establishing shots or god\'s-eye views of the beach. We never know how the battle is being played out because the hand held camera has a personal point of view, following only a handful of the film\'s main characters. I believe that Spielberg is showing off in the first sequence. This scene is full of small details that could not have been easy to set up. For each soldier the camera watches die, it seems two others are killed in the corners of the screen. However, this whole sequence has little to do with the main plot. If it were cut out, the story could be the same way.
Strangely, the film\'s plot is not what the film is about. It is merely a part that pieces together the puzzle, which makes up the rest of the film. Saving Private Ryan is really a tour of the life of American soldiers in Europe. There are distinct scenes in the film that show a small part of the big picture. With this in hand, the taking of Normandy is an important part of the tour, and therefore, its showing is not out of sense.
As I mentioned, the film is not about the plot. It is about the war in Europe, and more deeply, about the value of human life. The film follows Miller from his landing at Normandy to the fields of northern France. From the rainy town threatened by a sniper to the wreck of an American plane. From an isolated nest of German machine-gunners to the rubble-strewn bridge in need of defending,
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