Thin Red Line Movie Review
War and peace, violence and tranquility, life and death, heaven and hell. The little miracles of life for which we live, the horror and madness of an uncontrollable situation. A war unlike any other, not in scale, death, destruction, or in pain. Seemingly endless periods of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror. The pain and anguish of war for the combatants of both sides. In The Thin Red Line you witness the thoughts and the memories of soldiers before, during, and after violent, frightening combat sequences. These personal glimpses are the prevailing theme in this movie, and they are why The Thin Red Line is one of the best war films I have ever seen.
The opening scene is a dreamy representation of the calm before the storm. Peace and love: love from a mother to her child, love between two lovers, a love between one and your god. What is this war, the young deserters ask. Why? The men appreciate life for what it is. Fear grips them when they are re-captured and ordered back to the combat zone. While on board a ship, a colonel -- an older man, a man out of place, out of time -- strives for one last chance at glory: a man commanded by those much younger than him, a man who craves glory and fame, a man who will do almost anything for it.
The landing on the beach is a cakewalk, as is the subsequent initial patrolling. Has the enemy pulled out? Have they gone home? Why are we here? These questions hang over the leatherneck heads as they push inland. With each step the chance of contact increases without bounds. The tangled bamboo jungle, the bugs, the incessant heat, and the rain take their toll on the weary troops. These conditions, as well as the uniforms of the troops, were accurate representations of the non-combat experience of GI's in WW2.
Eventually, the lack of water takes its toll on the troops, and despite aggressive pleas from a strong lieutenant the battalion commander acquires no water. As the men climb the hill in an ill-fated, unplanned frontal assault, artillery fire rains down from the summit. The first wave attempts an assault up a steep hill guarded by pillboxes and well-entrenched troops. Bullets and carefully placed mortar rounds cut the men to pieces. Any attempt at counter fire is futile as Japanese gunners cover all the approaches. The carnage and brutality of war is evident here: no one is safe. But even during this horrific and dangerous time, individuals appreciate their surroundings, almost as if their souls were reaching out one last time for serenity and peace. This situation shows how many soldiers did what they did not for their country, or for medals, or for honor, but for their comrades in arms. The fearless run of a sergeant to console a dying man, the defiance shown by a lieutenant bent on protecting his men. The men show helplessness, a fear of dying, perhaps or maybe that their actions will be in vain.
Seven men probe the enemy's defenses, find a weakness, and make it to the top. In a gallant run they succeed where 170 men had failed. The enemy is on its heels. The colonel thinks, "We can break them." He sees a great victory for himself and forgets the plight of those around him. A final charge is in order, he thinks.
The brave remnants char the Japanese camp. In a chaotic, fast-paced scene hundreds fall, hundreds die. The Americans overrun their adversaries' position but not without cost. The enemy surrenders, with the strong attempting to protect the weak. With brutal resolve prisoners are singled out for execution and torture. This part of the film lacks the accuracy of the real world. For in the real world there would be none left to surrender. Not once in the movie does a Japanese officer commit ritualistic suicide, or does a trooper fall on his grenade rather than surrendering. Death rather than dishonor was the psyche of the Japanese army during WW2. That code is absent in this film.
As the men take rest after the combat, they have nightmares and dreams of their experiences. These combat flashbacks, in conjunction with memories of home and family, are brilliantly illustrated in the movie: guilt for surviving, guilt for killing another, for ending someone's existence. A realization that now a countless number of people hate you. You are the monster in the shadows, you are the evil in their life, and you are their worst enemy. Why me, whose idea was this to send so many to die so long before their time? How many of these brave boys could have been great authors, sculptors, scholars, teachers, and lovers.
As a final confrontation draws near, a disgraceful letter arrives. A Japanese reconnaissance in force yields impressive results. The American scouts come to a sobering realization. Even by the grace of god, the company is dead if it meets up with this foe. They must be warned to move away to disengage, or the end will come. The scouts know only one of them will live, one out of three. One will distract the enemy, the other hold them off, the third will run to the safety of his comrades. The final decision is made not by drawing straws or odd man out but by a single sacrifice of a brave man. This act is not for glory, or for his country, or for his president; he will die alone and forgotten like so many others. He does this to save countless lives: his friends, his comrades, and his enemies. No monuments will be erected in his name, no one will name their babies after him, and no one will make pilgrimages to his home. A man so bent on returning home to his love, to his home, to himself, will make the ultimate sacrifice. As he runs, he knows this. He is sad, he is found.
With one shot, his enemy, heart pounding, chest throbbing, mind crying, ends it. A million pieces are shattered, dreams destroyed, and an entire world gone in an instant and countless others affected in countless different ways. Why, why do we do this to ourselves continuously? No matter what we do what, we fear we can never stop this. This movie demonstrates many aspects of our world, and it is accurate and good. But I can never fully make that call, only those who lived this madness can decide after all. They are what this is all about. "And if I go first on the other side of the dark waters, I will wait for you . . . ."
More by this Author
When you think of medieval Europe, you usually think of knights, castles, and the church. Rarely, though, do you think of the Moors, the powerful, benevolent rulers of Spain for nearly 700 years. While the rest of...