Steered by Steven Spielberg and composed by Robert Rodat, the 1998 celluloid, Saving Private Ryan, is a ‘must watch’ chef-d’oeuvre, set in the 20th century and relatable to those who claim to be devotees of the history of World Wars. Saving Private Ryan unfolds the events of 20th century, covering countries like England, France, as well as Ireland, all of which participated in World War II.
Steven, in this captivating masterpiece, takes the viewer through a historical voyage, showing the events as they really occurred during the Second World War specifically in 1944, a year before the war ended. Some characters in the film once existed in history, for instance, Captain Miller, once lived because his tombstone still exists. The director highlights the respective contributions of these people in the making of the present ‘history of World Wars.’
He wants to show that what people call history is no more than a past real life story experienced by people. A good number of instances in the film are historically accurate. However, Steven intentionally infixes some scenarios, which contradict the reality as unfolded by history, to meet dramatic effects as well as to imprison the attention of the viewers. However, some historically inaccurate episodes arise from Steven’s sloppiness.
Historically Accurate and Inaccurate Instances
In Saving Private Ryan film, the way Steven pictures the intrusion of Normandy concurs with history. The movie unfolds the events as they really occurred when this French province was invaded on 6th June 1944. The actual plan was to make sure that the Ranger companies were attacked first, so that the main objective of securing Pointe-de-Hoc and some other ‘higher grounds’ may be easily achieved.
As the movie unfolds, Omaha beach is stormed arousing the horrors of the battle, which agrees with history. In addition, the way the men match towards the LCPVs to storm the beach is historically accurate because the way they suffer casualties thereafter, matches the exact happening of 1944.
Moreover, as Custin points out, “The scenes from the Invasion of Normandy were correct in showing the shore just as it was on June 6, 1944” (22). The image of the shore in the movie resembles the real picture as it was then. For instance, the evident blood covering the sands on the shore matches the real picture as it stood in 1944. More so, just as the dead bodies lie scattered besides the shore with the bloody waters of the ocean passes for the real scenario. The boats employed in the movie matches with the ones used then.
The movie pictures a cemetery at the Normandy province, which resembles the exact one in France, referred to as the ‘Normandy American Cemetery.’ The names of some characters and places used by Steven, match with the real names of those who fought the war. Finnigan proves the existence of Miller when he says, “…and I do believe Captain Miller were real people…there are tombstones to prove it” (Para. 7) However, as aforementioned, some scenarios in the movie are historically inaccurate.
History has it that Omaha beach was swept away by the third wave but not the first as the movie insinuates. Private Ryan is no more than a fictional character that never existed in history, though he plays the role of Frederick Niland, a real person from the 101st airborne section.
There is no sufficient historical information concerning this person as the movie depicts. However, he was among the four men, whose three brothers died at various places during World War II, with his mother receiving the death information at ago. Historically, there lacks evidence of any attempts to search for him as Steven pictures in his film. In addition, during the last battle, the soldiers did not use the phrase, ‘Lets rock and roll’ the movie shows; the phrase used then is ‘Lets lock and load.’
Many people have commented on the reasons behind the inaccuracies portrayed by the filmmakers. The inclusion of names and places that did not exist then makes the movie somewhat intriguing hence captures the viewers’ attention. In addition, they appear in order to meet the movie’s objectives. For instance, Frederick’s history had to be modified for the purpose of ‘narrative expediency’. On the other hand, mistaking the words as they were really used is a sign of carelessness of the filmmakers.
Lessons from the Specific Period
The viewer learns a lot about a specific time in history. Firstly, the picture of the World War II becomes clear. The war stands as a real life experience, rather than a mere fiction.
The viewer learns a good deal of the entire period of 1939-1945. It is a period when people went through severely hard time, following the many fights that saw the death of their beloved parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends as well as enemies. This period stands as one when peace was the cry of all, but the deed of few. It is a period when all people, men and women, young and old participated in the fight.
Just as the viewer is driven to tears by the events in the movie, it is a lesson that, 1944 was no more than a year dominated by tears. It depicts the price of the peace that people enjoy nowadays. Freedom is not the yearning of the liberals, but of the captives, just like the biblical story of the children of Israel. It comes through a lot of pains, sacrifices and sufferings. Therefore, it suffices to infer that, today’s freedom is a result of yesterday’s painful experiences such as those of 1944.
A Propaganda Film
Critics declare the film a complete propaganda where the director wants to sway people to a particular way of thinking. For instance,” A prime example of American Propaganda occurs after a group of Germans kill one American soldier near what looks to be a communications area with a huge satellite.
One German soldier remains alive, and in a plea to no be killed he says, ‘I love America’” (Hurst 4). Therefore, it suffices to infer that the movie glorifies the role of America in the War and not any other country, hence propaganda.
Steven, in a technical way, uses it to convince a nation, stricken by war, that sacrificing to fight back can help restore peace. This does not regard whether one dies, or is injured in the process. Symbolically, he gives powerful countries like America, a mandate to give orders to other countries. For instance, the movie talks about saving Private Ryan. This can be interpreted in a variety of ways, both negative and positive.
Firstly, one can conclude that Steven refers to America’s power to choose which or who to or who not to assist. Secondly, one can deduce that Steven wants to show the role that powerful people or countries, like America, ought to play in times of crises: to save rather than to kill, as it was during World War II. In addition, the movie passes for propaganda because, Steven can be mistaken for speaking in favour of wars, a case that can in turn induce the predicted third world war.
The issue of stereotyping comes in handy in the film. For instance, it is a fact that the boats were steered by a British navy, but what the movie pictures is a Jerseyan stereotype that arises since a Jerseyan pilot seems quite entertaining compared to the British. Steven seems to favour the issue of stereotypes.
This stands in the way he strategically locates his characters. For instance, Tom Sizemore, acts as the deft sergeant, Edward Burns is the quick-tempered Private Raiben, among others. The employed stereotypes are not damaging. It is worth noting that the use of stereotypes in the movie has contributed to its evident strength and the excellent performance. When Steven employs these stereotypical characters, his message to the viewers stands better conveyed compared to the situation with non-stereotypical actors.
In conclusion, building on the day-to-day happenings, there stands out events parallel to what Steven depicts in his work. For instance, just as America stands powerful, with a significant role to play in the film, so is the case today. It is a super power nation, whose role and significance outweighs that of the rest.
In addition, whenever any war strikes any country, America has to be involved in ‘saving’ or rather bringing the situation to normal. The Israel-Afghanistan conflicts serve as the best illustration of this. America comes out as the dominant peacemaker. In addition, the exclusion of the troops of other countries in any peace-building process stands today. If the American forces are incorporated, it is of less significance to involve others. All, these, among others, are in accord with what Steven brings out in his masterpiece.
Custin, Davis. Saving Private Ryan: Historical Accuracy. London: Word Press, 2004. P. 22. Print.
Finnigan, Charles. Saving Private Ryan, 2010. Web. 08 December 2010.
Hurst, Lynda. Saving Private Ryan: Propaganda. Oxford: Oxford Publishers, 2002.