Sunday, August 03, 2008

I don't like war movies. I think it was in grade 11 film class, my teacher said that to film a Hollywood military sequence you have two options: buy your own tanks, or borrow the army's. Weapons being one of the most expensive props to acquire, most choose to borrow. But the military has to then approve you use of them in the film. They can censor scenes, lines or plot elements that don't portray them in a positive light (Paul, you will like this list of films that didn't get funding from the Pentagon).
Thus, we watched Top Gun that year, as an illustration of my teacher's point. The sexy heroes shooting the nameless, foreign masked villains that talked weird. The army recruitment booths set up outside the cinemas on opening weekend. 
Even though Apocalypse Now didn't exactly have army-recruitment-booth potential, I didn't enjoy it. I don't like movies about men in uniforms: can't keep them straight, can't care about them as characters. The battle scenes are disorienting, dark, miserable, and repetitive. I can keep track of battle scenes in LOTR mainly because the combatants are of so many different species. Even Star Wars battle scenes confuse me, as the clone armies switch alleagiances half-way through the series. 
Maybe it is because war movies are always about MEN. I don't mind movies about one man, or containing several, but the central theme of war movies and the military in general is manhood. What is is or isn't, how it expresses itself, what an all male culture looks like, what relationships between men can be when the people are stripped to the bare minimum of who they are, when they are tortured, when they die or kill.
It just isn't INTERESTING to me anymore, this permanent study of males. As a theme, I feel it has been exhausted. Because war is always portrayed as riddled with dichotomies... right/wrong, good/bad ... there are only two ways you can go (or, four: it you count good but appearing bad, and bad but appearing good on top of the regular old good and bad guys). Even when the movie doesn't answer the question, the question is old.
I hate how Hollywood defines how we think of wars. It is the most horrible thing we humans are capable of, and we don't even know the truth about this part of our souls. But there is some sick cultural fascination with it. 
I said yesterday I might give another war movie a chance someday if it weren't made by Americans (or Canadians). I only remember seeing one Polish movie, about pilots in WWII. And one French movie about Christmas in the trenches of WWI. But they didn't redeem anything in my mind, although they didn't make me sick to my stomach, at least.
I think it is the combination of love of country and pride in malehood that just make the war genre unsavory to me. 
I can't put my finger on it completely. Any thoughts?


Jerry said...

It's hard to find war films about women because women didn't fight openly in wars until the 20th century. (With the exception of those who disguised themselves as men, or figures like Joan d'Arc.) The only ones I can think of off the top of my heard are about the figures like Joan D'Arc, or Florence Nightingale, or Laura Secord, or other women who have attained mythical status in their national consciousness. Though, I did once see a documentary about the Women's auxiliaries that most nations put together in World War II. To those women, it was considered a part of the liberation movement as exemplified by "Rosie the Riveter" - a demonstration that they no longer had to follow defined roles if they chose not to, something that would take full flower with the following generation in the 60s and 70s.

So, there are 'alternatives' out there. To me, watching a war fiction film is like watching any sort of fiction film -- meant for pure enjoyment, maybe to be surprised and to consider something then I haven't considered. But I expect the subject to be simplified, and purified and spun, regardless of source, and so, I take any sort of moral lessons with a grain of salt. Films may be a mirror of a culture (like all art forms), but it's a cracked, flawed mirror, imperfect, reflecting only partial images and half-dimmed perceptions. (Also like all art forms.)

All filmmakers have their biases, cultural, national, whatever; our approval or disapproval is mostly based on whether or not they agree with our own. (The biases may be justified, don't get me wrong -- but they're still biases.)


Kent said...

I think God hard wired men very differently from women. Whether it is one on one, or nation against nation, I believe times come when really the only thing to do is fight. I am sure war is very terrible, though I haven't been in one. However, it would be hard for me to think of it as the most terrible thing humans can do. Doesn't even seem close to the worst, only becase we can do such terrible things. A significant event in my life was reading an essay by C.S. Lewis, "Why I Am Not a Pacifist". He summed it up far better than I can.