TWO FICTIONAL ANTI-WAR FILMS PROVIDE NEW TWISTS
Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan has been nominated as the best film of 1998 in the category PEACE, promoting the virtues of peace over violence. Ostensibly about the heroism of soldiers who did their duty in World War II, the film tells theater audiences that the combat of war is hell, battlefield decisions made on the spur of the moment can be brutal, orders from the top can be absurd, and the good die young, physically and mentally. The cause may be just, we are told, but the justification for war is simpler when the aggressors are unjust. Interestingly, the contrast of Steven Spielberg versus Oliver Stone is increasingly imprinted on filmviewers as Saving Private Ryan goes on to its redundant third hour–soldiers fighting for a cause versus without a cause, GI heroes versus GI assholes, ethnic solidarity versus ethnic discord, Europe versus Asia, etc. Yet both agree that war is a sport of commanders with too much power and with too little understanding of human suffering, and they agree that the psychological wounds of war are never quite healed in peacetime. MH
The second nomination in the category of PEACE is Regeneration, a British film directed by Gillies MacKinnon and based on the novel by Pat Barker. The film begins with a scene displaying the squalor of the trenches of World War I and then focuses most of the film on soldiers psychologically unable to continue at the battlefront who were sent to an army treatment center. Rather than restoring the personalities of the soldiers and sending them home, the aim of the center is “regeneration”—to equip them to return mindlessly to battle. The methods of the center vary depending upon the psychologist assigned to each patient—from hypnosis to electroshock therapy to persuasion through dialog. We learn that each soldier has valid reasons for wanting to stay out of battle, and the treatment center achieves surreal successes. Through the torture of electric shocks, at least one soldier becomes immediately compliant, but the psychologist who is our protagonist in the film clearly finds this method barbaric; instead, he seeks to destroy the emotions and even the logic that motivate those who have stopped fighting. Either way, the objective is to strip patients of their identities in order to get them resume their duty as fighting machines. All do indeed return to battle, mostly to die in utter futility, so the film could easily have been titled “Many Flew into the Cuckoo’s Nest.” War’s dehumanization, in short, is triumphant in this telling of Europe’s Vietnam. MH
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