Sobering is the best way I can define Saving Private Ryan for myself. Usually, I write about films I enjoy and find entertaining but to put those words to SPR seems off. It’s a film that showcases the horror of war and also the humanity of soldiers.
It’s been 20 years since the release of SPR and I was not allowed to watch it in theaters seeing as how I was fourteen when it was released but I wanted to without truly understanding it. I can’t say for sure when I finally watched the film but I actually think I saw it in a history class I took as a junior in high school. We watched it in parts, discussed, and did an assignment to discuss WW2.
From what I can remember, the film’s infamous opening of the beach landing in Normandy struck me as horrifying. There was no glory. There was no sense of patriotic pride either. It was a depiction of war, showing the true limits of the human body when bullets and explosions are inflicted upon them. Fathers, sons, and brothers endured the immense hammer that was the war. They did so out of duty and service to their country, families, and each other. There are no greater heroes than those.
I don’t think it can be argued that SPR is one of Steven Spielberg’s top films. For message and filmmaking, it has few equals. He brought to life fictional characters thrust into one of history’s greatest conflicts and depicted real people faced with continuous trials and trauma. Again, sobering.
It’s easier to consider the film as I’m doing now and critique it from a storyteller position when I’m not watching it on the screen. I can explain how I appreciate the characters and their relationships amidst chaos and death while carrying out a mission to send one of their own home after his three brothers were killed elsewhere in the war. I appreciate the storytelling Spielberg was able to portray through the film but I would be remiss to say this film is enjoyable to watch. It wasn’t the first time I saw it and hasn’t been any other subsequent time I’ve watched it either.
Spielberg did not look to entertain his audience with SPR like he has with say Jurassic Park or more recently Ready Player One. Much like Schindler’s List or Amistad, Spielberg cares more about portraying a story difficult to watch but important to experience. His message is, “this is a difficulty of our history but there were good people thrust into the horrors humanity can inflict upon one another and it’s these people who should be recognized and honored”.
I found this video recently and loved the dissection of Spielberg’s brilliant filmmaking. Enjoy!