This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Saturday, 24 November 2012
If there is one film that encapsulates the idiocy of the military experience, it is this. Beginning in the late eighties in the brutality of a Marine recruit's training, most of it takes place during the build-up to Operation Desert Storm and during the actual course of that "four day, four hour, one minute" operation. It starts off like, and could have become, a standard Hollywood genre war film of the type parodied in MAD Magazine - the tough sergeant, the gentle boy, the bullying recruit, the clean cut protagonist who is muddled by what is going on, they are all there; the only figure missing is the chaplain mouthing platitudes, but there are enough crucifixes on view to make up for that. However, the director (Sam Mendes) takes pains to make sure it does not go that way. The film is based on Anthony Swofford's 2003 book about his own experience as a Marine in Kuwait. I have no idea (not having read the book) if the book's account has been played around with, but it's still a compelling watch. Brief story: the soldiers (pumped up for action by cheering as American helicopters on "Apocalypse Now" bomb and rocket a Vietnamese village) arrive in Saudi Arabia unsure of where they are, unsure of the difference between Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Iraqis, and are met by a Lt Colonel who tries to pump them full of zeal for combat. Then they wait, and rehydrate, and masturbate, and wait some more, spending their time on scorpion fights and discussing the infidelities of their girlfriends. Bizarre things happen - they are made to play American "football" in chemical warfare suits in the blazing desert sun for the benefit of a TV crew, they burn drums full of faeces as a punishment (a similar scene to one in "Platoon", but much more explicit). Finally they do go to war...where their first combat experience is being strafed by USAF A10 Warthog ground attack aircraft. The rest of their war consists, as one man says, of "walking over a lot of sand". There are gruesome depictions of charred Iraqi corpses in the Highway of Death, which make Swofford throw up, and blazing oil wells whose smoke make the day turn to night. Then - more walking over sand, anmd at last a chance for Swofford ( a trained sniper) to shoot an Iraqi officer, the culmination of his training and waiting for action, his chance at revenge against the system. But he is denied permission to take the shot because it would give warning of an imminent air strike. And then there is more walking. And, before he can fire a shot, the war is over. There are so many ways this film scores over vainglorious Hollywood garbage like "The Three Kings" and "Courage Under Fire". There is really no heroism at all, and all there is, at the end, is a return to civilian life where no one fits in. Of course there is the delicious irony of contrasting this movie to the prolonged defeat the Americans are going through right now in Iraq. And as for why they all went through this, it was Swofford's remark to a TV interviewer which pretty much summed it all up: "I am 20 years old and was stupid enough to sign a contract." No wonder the Bush worshippers did not like this film. You reap what you sow, baby.