Patriotism at the Movies


By Darin Miller, Contributing Writer

No year at the movies is truly complete without a good war movie, and 2013’s LONE SURVIVOR goes wide this Friday, Jan. 10, in many theaters. Starring Mark Wahlberg, it’s the latest in a genre stacked with classics.

The movie is based on a failed mission along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where a Navy SEAL mission in Taliban territory became one man’s fight for survival. It’s an important addition to the genre.

LONE SURVIVOR is a tale of overcoming adversity. Like BLACK HAWK DOWN, it’s a visceral portrait of the quality of our nation’s men and women in uniform – a group known for incredible courage and self-sacrifice.

War movies are an incredibly successful genre partly because soldiers embody qualities that have been celebrated in nearly every culture known to man. In ancient times, spring was quite literally “the time when kings [went] out to battle” (2 Samuel 11:1), and the feats of war heroes were celebrated in lore – the retelling of which was a source of entertainment. Since the invention of war, heroes have brought the abstract of clashing cultures and values and political systems to life in very real, jarring ways. Modern examples abound – and for each real-life conflict, there’s likely a movie portraying this contrast. When the U.S. went to war with the Allies against the Axis powers in World War II, for example, the fight was more than just two collections of countries battling it out. It was about right versus wrong, good and evil, freedom against tyranny – a fact that’s been vividly rendered many times on the big screen, especially during the Golden Age of Hollywood by such classic movies as THE PURPLE HEART, SANDS OF IWO JIMA, AIR FORCE, THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, BATTLEGROUND, DESPERATE JOURNEY, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE.

Even in fictional superhero accounts of America at war, Hollywood beautifully presents the best Americans have to offer. MOVIEGUIDE® Award winner CAPTAIN AMERICA is, perhaps, most powerful during training camp, when pre-serum Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) dives on what he thinks is a live grenade to save those around him. His actions, like his nickname, set him up as an archetype representing the millions of men and women in our Armed Forces who have sacrificed literally everything to defend our nation’s values.

More than that, war movies often show more than just the conflict abroad. They succinctly, emotionally capture the home front:  husbands and wives and children left behind as soldiers bid tearful farewells, turning their backs on the comforts of home to go into a harsh world and defend the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. A recent and instantly classic example is ACT OF VALOR, another MOVIEGUIDE® Award winner.

War movies also help civilians relate to soldiers. While no movie can perfectly capture the terror of war – missing from cinematic scenes of battle are the smells of gunpowder mixed with sweat and blood, the felt physical exhaustion of wearing heavy gear, thirst from a hot sun or cold from a freezing rain – visuals help civilians relate, as do those stories that showcase the difficulty returning veterans have re-acclimating to everyday life (the classic Post World War II drama, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, magnificently directed by William Wyler of 1959’s BEN-HUR).

What ties every conflict Americans have engaged in together – and possibly every movie made to commemorate such conflicts – is that through the centuries America’s soldiers have continued to embody the same courageous, selfless spirit that defined our military from George Washington onward. While the cinematic vehicles of delivery vary, that truth stands out. On this, Wahlberg’s LONE SURVIVOR stands in good company.

Editor’s note: Both, LONE SURVIVOR and BLACK HAWK DOWN, however, require extreme caution for violence and foul language, something that the great classic war movies did not need to be emotionally powerful. As Ron Maxwell, the great director of GETTYSBURG, one of the very best war movies, said, “I don’t need porno-violence to be emotionally powerful”; and, the scene of the few confederate survivors coming over the wall at Gettysburg is proof that Ron is right, just as the Golden Age of Hollywood directors were right! By the way, another great Hollywood producer with the top Military credentials points out that ACT OF VALOR was a much better movie with less offensive content than LONE SURVIVOR.