Magazine article Insight on the News

Hollywood's Two-Hearted Memory of World War II

Magazine article Insight on the News

Hollywood's Two-Hearted Memory of World War II

Article excerpt

There's nothing like a World War II movie made in the 1990s to separate the men from the mice. The Thin Red Line secures first place for its director, Terrence Malick, in the mouse category, while catapulting Saving Private Ryan's Steven Spielberg into the man category. Audiences reacted quite differently to the two films: The Thin Red Line fell off the top 10 list three weeks after its release, while Saving Private Ryan hit No. 4 in rerelease. Nonetheless, both have been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The prerelease buzz on The Thin Red Line was that it would have what Saving Private Ryan was missing. I, for one, was interested in seeing an improved version of Ryan.

Seconds into The Thin Red Line, I understood what it was the insiders thought Private Ryan to have been missing: the message that war is wrong. In addition to any artistic ambitions, Malick's intention with The Thin Red Line was to emphasize the destructiveness and error of war. The movie, which recounts the battle for the Japanese-occupied island of Guadalcanal, showed more hugging, crying, soothing, complaining and dreaming than it did fighting. The soldiers were confused, unmotivated and detached, watching the horrors in befuddled fascination.

Spliced between these literally touching scenes was second-grade-level poeticism, narrating every soldier's private, philosophical meditations. Each character pondered the meaning of life and the meaninglessness of war while wandering aimlessly on the battlefield. In this way Malick managed to transform soldiers fighting a war during the 1940s into sensitive males of the nineties.

The film even succeeded in making Nick Nolte, who is 200 percent man, come across as an emasculated and introspective shell of his manly self: Sitting in a chair, legs crossed, the tough-talking general, too, gives in to reflection and repentance while giving himself a makeshift manicure.

While it's most certain that Malick and Spielberg have similar political outlooks, only one recognizes that there are things worth fighting for. Spielberg's movie turned quivering pansies into soldiers; Malick's product turned soldiers into quivering jellyfish.

Spielberg showed just as graphically the devastation of war. The most brutal visual assault came during the storming of the Normandy beaches by U.S. troops who were freeing a country that rolled over and played dead, demonstrating the kind of passivity of which Malick would no doubt approve.

But even while showing the ugliness of war, Spielberg never lost sight of what was at stake, and his soldiers didn't question the necessity of their presence at the front line. …

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