Multiple Heroes in The Thin Red Line
March 8, 2017 at 8:55 pm #971Jeanna FotiParticipant
Often in films, a singular hero will be identified and praised as the viewer follows this person’s journey throughout the film. Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line presents an alternate structure in which many characters are presented as heroes. While there is a slightly sharper focus on Private Witt, most of the film does not focus on a singular person, but multiple people who perform small, but heroic acts. The film reminds me of the book we are reading now, Alive by Piers Paul Read, because of the lack of a singular hero. Both the book and the movie describe a multitude of characters that can be defined as heroes in their own way.
While Private Witt commits the ultimate sacrifice for his troop, there are many other characters who either save other lives or stay as support as others lose their lives. In one scene, Sergeant Keck accidentally pulls the pin on a hand grenade that blows up his backside. After he falls, Private Bell and Private First Class Doll among other soldiers hold Keck down and stay by his side as he panics. The soldiers all manage to stay by his side and provide comfort as Keck dies. Many other soldiers provide this same level of comfort to their friends, as many are wounded on the battle field. In one instance, 1<sup>st</sup> Sergeant Welsh runs out in the middle of open fire to try and save Private Tella, who screams in pain because of his injuries. Tella denies his help, but Welsh is able to provide some comfort and calm him down before leaving. Providing comfort to those dying may not seem that heroic, but to those who are receiving the comfort, having their friends by their sides showing they care during their last moments makes these characters a hero to them.
Then, there are the more distinct moments of heroism, in which certain characters save the lives of their companions. Most notably is the moment in which Private Witt volunteers himself to provide a distraction to the enemy so that the other soldier is able to warn the rest of the troop of the coming danger. Witt finds himself trapped by the enemy and is ultimately killed because of his efforts. Another instance is when Captain Staros refuses Lieutenant Colonel Tall’s orders. Multiple times, he refuses orders because he “will not order them all to their deaths.” He feels as if it would be a suicide mission, and despite knowing the consequences, he refuses anyway, possibly saving all of their lives. Private Bell, at another point, leads a group of men up the hill in order to take down the machine gunners who are stationed at the top. Bell’s bravery and leadership allows the group to succeed and accomplish their mission of taking down the enemy.
Having so many different characters presented as heroes shows the realities of war. There isn’t a singular hero in war. On multiple occasions, you see the fear on their faces before or after they do something heroic. The soldiers didn’t necessarily want to be heroes, but, in the midst of war, they had to be.March 27, 2017 at 10:35 am #982Lizzie MessanaParticipant
Jeanna, I appreciated your comments about the film. Similar to some of the opinions shared in class, I had a hard time with this movie because of the large number of very similar looking actors, and I did try to follow the narrative instead of just taking the movie in for its aesthetic value. Overall, I can certainly say that I did not enjoy watching the movie. And yes, while watching, I could objectively see the various successes in the symbolism of the movie. War is long and miserable, and so the length of this movie and its varying elements – interludes of poetry, overall lack of dialogue, and frequent flashback scenes – presented a lengthy, frustrating experience for me. But because of the amount of characters in the film, I could not make a connection to any one of them, and because it was hard to follow the varying subplots, I couldn’t fully comprehend the varying pressures each man was facing, making it even harder to connect with them. Additionally, there were elements of the film that I felt were incongruous with the content, such as the “romantic” flashbacks and the lofty poetry, both of which made the film disingenuous, at least to me.
Because of all my criticisms of the film, I appreciated your comment that helps to justify the large cast as soldiers representing the various realities of war. Even though I might not have liked the flashback scenes, I can definitely see how that would occupy a soldier’s mind when they are missing their partner. Similarly, I can also understand that being in a war might lead a soldier down a path of existential inquiry, represented through the poetry, when they are left with nothing else but their own thoughts. I also appreciated your final comment about the regular heroism of the soldiers, who like me, didn’t even want to be in their situation, but were forced to be. That statement, more than anything in the film, helps me form more of a connection to the soldiers, and its message of simple, everyday heroism helps to paint the movie in a more favorable light for me.March 27, 2017 at 3:26 pm #987Kate SchulzParticipant
I, like Lizzie, did not particularly enjoy this film, and had a really hard time with it because of the number of characters and the length. However, your comments also helped me view it in a more favorable light. I particularly enjoyed your insight that the number of characters that were heroes showed the reality of war, as well as the concept of heroism in the sense of comforting the wounded and dying. I think watching this movie as a narrative, and trying to focus only on the plot really took away from my enjoyment of the film. Had I been able to step back and view it from the perspective of a film trying to simulate the realities of war, with the length, flashbacks, and number of characters, I probably would have enjoyed it more. I think this is a film where, as a viewer, it is important to realize the difference between intention and narrative, and be able to appreciate a film for one but not the other.
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