Our man movie series will largely follow the list posted over at Art of Manliness, 100 Must-See Movies: The Essential Men's Movie Library. It is our goal to showcase the value of cinema as a platform for letting story teach us about our world. Culture shapes and molds much of how we view the definition of masculinity. Movies serve as a platform upon which a cast and crew can convey their worldview and message. Movie goers are subjected to these viewpoints, whether cognizant of that fact or not. Our purpose in reviewing the films in this series is to highlight the good and bad of the movie, cross-examining it with what the Bible has to say about manliness. These posts are in conjunction with the Men's Roundtable Ministry of Grace Church in South Carolina. For more information on Grace Church and MRT, go here: Grace Church Men's Ministry
Our first movie from the list is Saving Private Ryan. Regarded as one of the finest war films ever made, legendary director Steven Spielberg takes us straight into the European theater of World War II. With a top-notch cast, seasoned cinematographer, and an effects crew that's second to none, Spielberg delivered a new level of war picture; one that unflinchingly captures the horrors of combat. SVP won 5 Oscars in 1998, including a Best Director nod for Spielberg.
The movie opens following an elderly man and his family walking down a tree-lined road at Arlington National Cemetery. As the camera pans across the way, we see countless grave markers scattered across a field. The man drops to his knees in front of a particular stone, and a flood of horrific memories immediately rushes back to him. We find ourselves aboard an amphibious landing boat filled with American soldiers. Dozens of ships crash through the waters on there way to Omaha Beach in Normandy, France for the invasion known as D-Day – June 6, 1944. Amidst the swarm of soldiers involved, we follow Capt. John Miller, played by the invaluable Tom Hanks, and his squad of seven soldiers.
The opening 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan is one of the finest scenes ever filmed. The graphic, realistic depiction of the landing at Normandy is unmatched. This would be my strongest caution to anyone who hasn't seen the movie. Spielberg does not hold anything back in his vision of the violence of combat. The invasion is a relentless 20-minute barrage of bullets and bombs being sprayed across a beach front with little to hide behind. Needless to say, the resilience of the Allied Forces who took the beach that day is humbling.
After the beach is taken and Allied Forces begin to flood the shores, Miller is given a special mission assignment all the way from the top. Three brothers have all been killed in action. Their mother receives all three telegrams and folded flags on the same day. A fourth brother, James Ryan, parachuted into France just before the invasion. Miller's orders are to find Ryan and bring him home. This sets up the rest of the movie as a group of soldiers look for one guy who could be anywhere – even dead.
“It's like finding a needle in a stack of needles.”
The men begin to wrestle with their mission, feeling that it's a “serious misallocation of military skills.” Where is the sense of risking the lives of eight just to find one guy?
In Men's Roundtable we constantly talk about the core responsibilities of men being to pursue, provide and protect. These ideas are strewn throughout SVP as the characters pursue their mission, provide for each other, and protect themselves, those around them, and the country they represent.
Each man, whether sooner or later, learns what it means to reject being passive in a situation and move into an acceptance of responsibility.
In bearing the male attributes of God's divine image, men are tasked with being leaders; being the one who makes tough decisions in tough circumstances. You'd be hard pressed to find a tougher scenario than being a soldier in World War II.
Miller's character is a great study of leadership. Amidst the deafening sounds of Omaha Beach, soldiers look to their Captain for direction. Miller is able to move his men up the beach and establish a bunker to further knock out the enemy defenses. The option of staying put here would certainly end in death, and thus Miller and his men move. They're uncertain and fearful in their own right, but they take action. The scenes of combat are broken up by the dialogue and character development of the soldiers, letting us in on a relatable level of humanity. Miller tells his sergeant that he knows exactly how many men he's lost under his command. Not all decisions are easy; not all are black and white. He says you have to tell yourself you sacrifice to save more people; that's the only way to rationalize between the mission and the man. Miller and his men constantly weigh the value of duty and honor. The sergeant says
“Saving Pvt. Ryan may be the one honorable thing we do, and that earns us all the right to go home.”
Saving Private Ryan is a valuable film for innumerable reasons. In terms of speaking to masculinity, Ryan gives us an unforgettable picture of what sacrifices were made to further the freedom and shade we live under today. We are given a history lesson on the hardships of war and the gratitude that should accompany it. God's design for men to be pursuers, protectors, and providers is represented through many scenes and scenarios throughout the movie. Loyalty, honor, devotion, and sacrifice are rarely seen in so honest a picture as you find here. Few movies have moved me the way this one does. Love it.