10 June 2001 | dedjim
Actually it's pretty GOOD history
I know it's fashionable to trash successful movies but at least be honest about the trashing... Pvt. Ryan was fiction but it was pretty good HISTORICAL fiction. The details were well thought out and based on reality.
There was nothing stupid about the portrayal of the German army... Rommel DID blunder in his placement of force, The high command DID think Calais was going to be the invasion spot, not Normandy. Hitler didn't wake up until noon on that day and his aides were afraid to wake him. The Rangers did come in right behind the first wave and did take a beach exit by sheer will to get the hell off the beach. The bluffs were the scene of heavy close fighting. The german defenders were mostly Eastern European conscripts from defeated areas. (note that the 2 men that tried to surrender were NOT speaking German). There WAS a young man rescued from interior Normandy after his brothers were all killed. He WAS an airborne trooper (the difference was that he was found by a chaplain and was removed from the front.)
The battles inside Normandy were small actions town to town, street to street, house to house. Small actions like taking the radar station happened. Small actions like a handful of men defending a river bridge against odds happened. Small squads of men, formed out of the misdrops banded together ad hoc to fight. There were all enlisted groups and all officer groups. A General did die in the glider assault. FUBAR aptly described much of what happened that day.
And there were only Americans in the movie because the Brits and Canadians were many klicks away in a different area... this was Omaha beach. The story was an American one. And Monty DID bog down the advance and everyone knew it. And as for "American Stereotypes"... well those pretty much define America: my college roomie was a wise-ass New York Jew. My best friend was a second generation east coast Sicilian. My college girlfriend was a third generation German. My first wife was French and English. I'm Irish, my boss is Norwegian and I work with a Navaho... you get the point?
So much for it being bad history. It was in fact an excellent way to let a jaded and somewhat ignorant-of-their-past generation *feel* something of what their grandparents (LIVING grandparents) went through. It is perhaps less important that the details be exact as the feel be right. Even now the details are not fully known or knowable about that campaign... it was too big, too complex and too chaotic to be knowable. There is not even an accurate casualty count of D-Day itself.
Now as to the depth of characters. What I saw there was the extraordinary circumstances into which ordinary people were thrown and what happened to them. I saw the things that would mark a generation (I have heard in my elderly male patients sentiments similar to what Cpt. Miller was expressing when he announced his ordinariness) I saw the dehumanization that occurs with war and its mitigation moment to moment, man to man... Cpt. Miller didn't know anything about Ryan and he didn't care... until Ryan revealed his humanity to him with his story of his brothers. Pvt. Reiban was ready to walk out of the situation until he discoverd his captains ordinariness and his humanity. Then he began to look to him almost as a father. Pvt. Mellish rightfully delights in his revenge for all the times he's had to take it because he was Jewish by telling German captives he's "Juden!" Nerdish Cpl. Upham can stand alongside his bigger, stronger, braver Ranger compatriots and describe the poetry and melancholy of Edith Piaf's song... then face his cowardice, turn around and stand up in the face of danger and finally demonstrate the dehumanization of the enterprise he was enmeshed in by executing Steamboat Willie... even though Willie had no more choice about being there than Upham did and in other circumstances would have made a friend.
I could go on and on with this but enough already. OK, perhaps it is not The Best Movie Ever Made but it is still a good movie. And if one will take the blinders of fashionable negativism off they will see it. Finally, this is not a patriotic story... if anything it is an acknowledgement and thank you to all those old men still out there that did so much for us. To them I say a deep and sincere thank you.