ENEMY AT THE GATES Add To My Top 10
Better Red Than Dead
Release Date: March 16, 2001
Genre: War Movie
Audience: Older teenagers & adults
Runtime: 131 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Executive Producer: Alain Godard & Alisa Tager
Producer: Jean-Jacques Annaud & John D. Schofield
Address Comments To:Sherry Lansing, Chairman
Motion Pictures Group
A Paramount Communications Company
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3197
Phone: (323) 956-5000
ENEMY AT THE GATES is a transparent movie. It shocks the audience by the forthright admission of a Communist political officer in the movie, who states quite plainly that the battle that shapes up between two sharp-shooters, an aristocratic Nazi and a poor Russian shepherd boy, is the "ultimate class conflict."
The movie opens with a little boy, Vassili, trying to shoot a wolf who has been baited by a beautiful stallion tied to a stake. Vassili's grandfather carefully instructs him on how to shoot the wolf in the eye. This is one of the best scenes of the movie, and one of the few wherein the audience is not told the meaning of the metaphor, although it’s clear to anyone who reflects on it, and this metaphor is repeated several times during the movie.
Next, the movie cuts to the older, grown up Vassily (Jude Law), recalling the wolf killing as he’s loaded onto a boxcar with other soldiers heading to the front in Stalingrad during World War II. On the train, for a brief moment, he notices a beautiful Jewish woman, Tania (Rachel Weisz).
Soon, the soldiers are loaded onto rickety boats to cross the Volga river into Stalingrad, a strategic city not only because of its location but also because its name gave it symbolic importance for Hitler and Stalin. Suddenly, the dreadful fury of war breaks out. Bombings and strafings from fighter planes and artillery rain down on the flimsy boats, and soldiers are cut to bits. When some of the recruits try to escape from the boats, they are shot by their own officers.
On shore, these barely prepared troops are given one rifle for every two men and only a couple of bullets. They are told, when one person dies, the other should pick up the rifle and charge the Germans. They charge the German troops and are slaughtered. When they start to retreat, they are slaughtered by their own officers.
Vassily plays dead to escape the mayhem. Through the bombed out street comes a little Russian car being driven madly by the young Jewish political officer, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes, who played a miscast, politically correct, revisionist Shakespeare in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE). When his car overturns, propaganda spills all over the street. Danilov starts to shoot a German officer, but Vassily takes the gun from him and surgically kills several German officers with bullets right through the brain. Danilov is very impressed and writes a political tract about Vassily.
In one of the movie’s best portraits, Bob Hoskins plays Kruschev who arrives by boat to rally the troops. He asks the political officers what can be done. They say, beat the young recruits, threaten their families, and force them to fight. Danilov, however, says, “Give them hope," by making a hero. Now, this may not seem like much in our culture where heroes are respected, but in an egalitarian society, these are brave words indeed. Kruschev is intrigued and allows Danilov to publish the tales of Vassily, who becomes the hero, so much so that the Germans send in their best sharpshooter, Major Koenig, brilliantly portrayed by Ed Harris, whose job is to kill Vassily.
Major Koenig is good. He is a deer hunter and has extreme patience. He baits Vassily just as Vassily baited the wolf. Thus, the showdown begins.
Meanwhile, Danilov is upset that the girl of his dreams, Tanyia has taken a liking to Vassily, so he starts to attack Vassily in the Communist Party press. Again, it should be noted that the Marxist politics of envy cannot stand for heroes for very long. They have to be brought to their knees for egalitarianism to reign. At the end, Danilov notes how hard, perhaps impossible, it is to make the new Communist man. He is not abandoning Communism as many in the audience might think because it is still better than the alternative, the ruthless, aristocratic elitism of Major Koenig.
Going beyond the movie, it should be noted that National Socialism was also anti-elitism. The Nazis had their purges, such as the Night of the Long Knives. Egalitarianism in the Soviet Union and in National Socialist Germany could only allow for the cult of one personality, the supreme leader, either Stalin or Hitler. That is why America must turn away from the politically correct egalitarianism of multiculturalism and “diversity” that has infected the public schools, the government, the media, and even some Christian churches.
Like a good Communist confessing its sins, ENEMY AT THE GATES does expose the flaws of Communism, but it still extols the goal of a classless society. Even so, interestingly enough, there are two prayers in the movie, one of which seems to be answered. This is a significant break from orthodox Communist Marxism, which is, as Marx said, practical political atheism. Furthermore, there’s a romance in the movie which does not fit the Socialist Realist perspective.
The movie is excessively violent, perhaps in an attempt to outdo SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Life is cheap, in the extreme. Death is insignificant, and the death that causes the most pain is that of Major Koenig because he is the only character who dares to be different.
It should be noted that the portrait of the Battle of Stalingrad is portrayed in a manner which maximizes sympathy for the Red Army. The battle was the bitter siege that had been sustained in and around that Russian city from August of 1942 to February of 1943. The defeat of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad marked the strategic turning point of the Second World War. The terrible fighting at Stalingrad has also come to symbolize the senseless sacrifice of human life to individual hubris and political whim.
The facts of the battle are quite different. As an article entitled "STALINGRAD LETTERS FROM THE DEAD" by Timothy W. Ryback in The New Yorker, February 1, 1993, points out:
"In mid-November of 1942, a surprise pincer attack by two Russian armies cut off the Gerrnan Sixth Arrny, which was then locked in a bloody struggle for the city of Stalingrad. Trapped in a Kessel, or cauldron, an egg-shaped line of defense thirty miles wide and twenty miles deep, the Sixth Army, which was under the command of General Friedrich Paulus, was ordered by Hitler to hold its ground rather than retreat west to join the vanguard of the German forces.
"In a matter of two months, from late November of 1942 until the end of January of 1943, a quarter of a million German soldiers, a thousand German panzers, eighteen hundred pieces of artillery, an entire air force of transport planes, and untold quantities of military supplies were obliterated by the combined forces of the Soviet Army and the Russian winter."
There is a minimum of foul language in the movie, most of it from Nikita Kruschev, who was known for a salty tongue. There is a very sexy fornication scene between the fully clothed Vassily and his beloved Tania in the midst of the bombed out shelter where the troops are sleeping.
Secular viewers have already pointed out that some of the dialogue is very silly. This, of course, is often the case with the posturing of Socialist Realism. Lying is condoned in the movie. There’s one particular scene where Danilov lies to a woman who just lost her son, and this is viewed as a heroic act.
ENEMY AT THE GATES has attracted some scathing reviews. Actually, it is a better movie than these critics say, in the tradition of its Socialist Realist genre. The worst aspect of it is that it is going to confuse people about the true nature of Communism, which, of course, is the point.
Like a good Communist, ENEMY AT THE GATES exposes the flaws of the Soviet Union, but it still extols Communism as the lesser of two evils. Interestingly enough, there are two prayers in the movie, one of which seems to be answered. The movie is also excessively violent. There is also a prolonged fornication scene and a scene that condones lying. The worst aspect of the movie is that it is going to confuse people about the true nature of Stalinist Communism and Marxism itself. Of course, this is the point. In reality, National Socialism was also anti-elitism. Egalitarianism in the Soviet Union and in National Socialist Germany could only allow for the cult of one personality, the leader, either Stalin or Hitler.