World War II Visual Project

Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge

Context in Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge

Both Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge were released more than half-a-century after the events that they follow. Of course in such a great time span, much of American History has unfolded. America has been greatly changed by the decline of American isolationism and America superpower status. While these two things were largely a result of WWII, events like the Cold War War and the economic boom of the 1950s have furthered both notions. The increased success of America in the second-half of the 20th century greatly bolstered the confidence of Americans. Also worth noting, the directors of Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge, Steven Spielberg and Mel Gibson respectively, are both American. This factor influenced both movie as British, Canadian, and American soldiers invaded Normandy on D-Day and British, Canadian, Chinese, New Zealand and American factions fought in the Pacific Theater. Therefore, it seems odd that both movies would depict only American efforts in such a global war.

Perspective and Attitudes in Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge

The perspectives of Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge are exclusively American. This is unfortunate and both films missed an opportunity to make a greater statement about war in general. In war, there are no winners, just those who suffer less than others. Yes, I would consider Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge to be anti-war films, but I do not think either film truly condemns war.

There is really good scene in Saving Private Ryan where Spielberg gets close. It is when Captain Miller and his men capture a German machine gun post. Only one German soldier survives and instead of executing him, Miller decides to let him go with the instructions to turn himself in to the first allied unit he comes across. This scene is great for multiple reasons. It shows the panic and hysteria felt by soldiers under pressure, much like the opening scene at Omaha Beach. It also shows the lengths to which one will go to save themselves as the German soldier speaks of his appreciation for American culture and condemns the actions of Hitler. However, the soldier is clearly speaking only to save himself as we later see him fighting alongside his fellow German soldiers in the final battle.

Hacksaw Ridge is much different. Our main character Desmond Doss, a pacifist at heart, enlists in the army, while refusing to bear arms of any kind. He is deployed in the Pacific Theater fighting the Japanese. In an act of compassion and heroism, he saves more than seventy-five wounded soldiers after his unit retreats from the bloody and hopeless Hacksaw Ridge. This is a great film, but I think it misses the mark in the anti-war film category. This is because it, like Saving Private Ryan, feels like a battle of good and evil. Good and evil are too black and white of terms to describe such a complicated conflict as war. The Japanese soldiers are depicted in an almost alien fashion. I understand that the Japanese style of war was barbaric, but these soldiers, like the Germans in Saving Private Ryan are portrayed with about as much depth as stormtroopers. I thoroughly enjoyed both films, but do not believe either film could be categorized as truly anti-war.

Portrayal of America in Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge

The portrayal of American efforts in Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge is likely accurate, but imbalanced and uneducated. American soldiers are the only ones depicted with any depth whatsoever. The films miss the mark on what it means to be anti-war by being so one-sided. Most notably Saving Private Ryan, the films bolster American confidence and depict the country as a superpower, fighting evil and protecting the weak. In the very end of Saving Private Ryan the unit is saved by a squadron of fighter planes from above. This is poor writing, all this ending does is undercut the sacrifices made by Ryan's fellow soldiers, provide a convenient ending to the film, and depict America as a savior country. This happens so often when America is portrayed in film. America is good and angelic, while everyone else is bad and evil. This imagery has greatly influenced many Americans and I find it to be an unhealthy attitude. I believe this sort of narcissistic attitude has lent itself well to many in America and has greatly influenced the rise of populism in America. Movies like these teach Americans to care for themselves, that they do not need the support of other countries or peoples. This trend has grown substantially in the time that I've been alive and I fear that it may mean the end of the European Union, United Nations, and more.