Today we honor the service men and women who died serving in the United States Armed Forces. If it weren’t for these brave soldiers, our lives would not be the same. Whichever way you decide to spend your day, please take a moment to remember those who lost their lives protecting this country and all of the freedoms we hold dear to us. While I cannot personally speak to the magnitude of this day, for I have not lost a relative or close friend to military combat, I try to commemorate the occasion by listening to the stories of family members who have served, and by watching at least one film dedicated to members of the military. Maybe it’s just me, but depictions of war always pull at my heart strings the most and bring out more emotion in me than any other genre.
Based on the book by Stephen Ambrose, the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg produced miniseries Band of Brothers remains as my favorite feature of the war genre. Capturing the struggle and heroics of a military unit in World War II, the series not only exemplifies the personal battles faced by each soldier, but also highlights the camaraderie between members of the military. The 10 episode series premiered in 2001 on HBO and features stand out performances from Damian Lewis (Homeland), Scott Grimes (American Dad!) and Ron Livingston (Office Space). Though the series has been criticized for its fictionalization of some historic events, the personal impact of the interviews with real veterans of Easy Company is not lost. The series won a Golden Globe and also spawned the 2010 HBO series The Pacific. I have watched Band of Brothers, which now airs on various networks, three times, and no matter how hard I try not to, I always shed a tear in the final episode when Damian Lewis’s character, Major Richard D. Winters, recites the Shakespearian paragraph from which the show’s title originates: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be never so vile. This day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhood’s cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
Through his stunning usage of color, sound and visuals, Terrence Malick exceptionally captures the internal struggle of a soldier in World War II in his Oscar nominated film The Thin Red Line. Jim Caviezel stars as an emotionally distraught soldier who is pulled back into combat after deserting his unit to live in a small village off the coast of Guadalcanal. While I am not the biggest fan of the religious undertones throughout the film, I give Malick a pass because of the truly poetic and beautiful characterization of the art of war. His work has influenced incredible directors like David Fincher and Christopher Nolan and his film is a must watch for any true film fan.
Two more contemporary films I adore are Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winning picture The Hurt Locker, and Jim Sheridan’s Golden Globe nominated film Brothers. While The Hurt Locker focuses more on combat (specifically through the lens of an elite bomb unit in Iraq), both films shed light on the often difficult task of returning home from war. I have a personal connection to both of these films as a friend of mine who served in a bomb disposal unit in the Israeli army now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and though I am typically not a political person, I think it necessary to say that we do not do enough to help our returning soldiers and their families.
For all of the families out there who have lost someone to any form of combat, this day is for you. And to family members with children or spouses still on active duty, I pray for their safety and quick return home. Have a peaceful Memorial Day, and again, thank you for everything you have done.
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Thin Red Line
The Hurt Locker
Saving Private Ryan