Where to begin? It seems war is just too big of a topic for Hollywood to handle in 90-110 minutes. Go figure.
I suspect what people want from Hollywood is to take the viewer from innocent civilian to battle-hardened soldier and back again. Do we really want Hollywood to tell us about Charlie’s war in Afghanistan or are we more interested in the conflicts within the soul of the Lion of Panjshir?
Modern war movies seem to be more about telling the story within the story. The other problem with movies is that there is no smell, except of popcorn and spilled fountain drinks. Try to imagine the real smells of war. Then smell the “imagined” ones of fear and death. Do death and fear have a scent? Is it a bad thing if you don’t know the answer to that question?
We are all fascinated with war. It is tribalism at its worst and unveils the darkness within each of our souls. That is why scenes from The Deer Hunter are so hard to watch. We realize that war can take good, decent, and normal people to dark places from which they never can fully return. The movies that touch us the most are those that teach us new ways to think about the common man turned warrior. What makes him take on these unbearable loads? Imagine the burden of command, the weight of a nation upon his very flawed and weak mind and body.
What if, after great personal sacrifice and loss, your president gives away with the stroke of his pen the victory soaked in the blood of your friends and the Marines who believed in you enough to follow your not-always-perfect orders?
Why is war hell? you ask. War is hell because of how the Ruling Class mocks the sacrifices of our warriors. Then there is survivor’s guilt thrown in for good measure.
The best modern war movies do not try to explain war or even human nature. What they do is try to provide a glimpse into the impenetrable psychic conflicts that modern warfare weighs upon the American grunt. One reason that Saving Private Ryan did not really work after the opening scenes is because Tom Hanks was miscast in his role as an infantry officer. He could not and did not give us any sense, other than a shaking hand, of what it is like to order good men to their deaths. The only relief from the burden of command in combat is one’s own death, but in dying what if your replacement is an even more flawed human specimen?
In other words, you have asked me, the Soldier, to go to places and do things for you there that you cannot do for yourself. I have been there and done things as ordered. I am forever changed and not always for the better.
Your dilemma is whether or not to accept me as I now am or pretend that you have nothing to do with what I have become. I did not start out this way. I know freedom is not free and that our nation is worth the sacrifice.
Finally, how do you make sure America will remain worthy of my efforts to defend her? Will I be mocked in the end by my fellow citizens turning the greatest nation on Earth into something that was not worth fighting, killing, and dying for?