SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
Re: Ella Taylor's review of Saving Private Ryan ["Dark Victory," July 24-30]. It is not a "burst of schmaltzy ritual" when the old man falls to his knees at the cemetery in Normandy and asks his wife to tell him that he was a "good man." I traveled to Normandy in 1994 with veterans of the European campaign. There has not been one day since the war that the veterans of Omaha Beach have not thought of June 6, 1944. That "longest day" has lasted 54 years for them, and will last to the end of their lives.
In the first 30 minutes of his movie, Steven Spielberg finally tells America what really happened at Omaha Beach. Our fathers and grandfathers did not tell us. They could not. What happened there was too horrible for them to tell. It could only be remembered through ritual. The veterans in 1994 performed many rituals, including the kind filmed at the cemetery for the end of Saving Private Ryan. For those who survived Omaha Beach, it is only natural to think, "Why me?" "Have I lived as good a life as my buddy who was killed would have lived?" "Am I a good man?" If any veteran of that campaign is reading this letter, let me tell him: "You are a good man. Your life has been worthwhile."
-W. Roger Scott
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I just read Ella Taylor's review of the film Saving Private Ryan. I found the movie to be - without question - the best and most realistic depiction of war I have ever seen. (So did my father, who is a Vietnam veteran who saw combat and was wounded in that war.) Many people in the audience came out crying, and during many of the battle scenes I saw people in the audience physically flinching and ducking down into their seats to avoid the bullets and shrapnel flying all around on the screen.
Taylor criticizes the dialogue - and virtually the entire story outside of the battle scenes. What, may I ask, is wrong with "sinking knee deep into the heroic individualism which defines American Romantic aspiration"? Of any war in the history of mankind, World War II was the one that, once started, absolutely had to be fought and won. The men and women who fought that war deserve recognition and our eternal appreciation, and the film shows just how enormous that sacrifice was. I don't think there is anything wrong in romanticizing the collective and individual sacrifices that were made to win World War II.
Taylor criticizes the final scene, in which one of the survivors, now an old man, falls to his knees before a cross in the American cemetery at Normandy. Does Taylor believe that such a scene would not happen in real life? I guess Taylor has never been to the Vietnam Memorial Wall and seen the veterans breaking down in front of that monument. That scene was not a "schmaltzy ritual," but based on reality.
I am a 54-year-old Vietnam veteran. My wife and I went to Lake Charles this afternoon to see Saving Private Ryan. I entered the theater a little skeptical. (I have probably seen every World War II movie ever made.) I left the theater absolutely convinced that Saving Private Ryan is the best World War II movie of all time. Anyone who has ever been in the military, who has ever lost a friend or family member in military conflict, will very likely be moved as I was.
I am not normally given to recommending movies, but this work warrants such a recommendation.
My father was at Normandy. I am a Vietnam veteran and unashamedly wept at the Wall as I remembered and honored my fallen comrades. They made the ultimate sacrifice so that people like Ella Taylor - who doesn't have a clue as to what I'm talking about - can write an inadequate movie review.
I am totally at variance with 99 percent of Mr. Spielberg's publicly held political views, but one must give him his due: This time he got it right. Your reviewer didn't.
- R.D. Hart
Saving Private Ryan is a movie that strikes at the heart of war, that vividly portrays life in the ugly lane. Ms. Taylor should perhaps research her subject a little more carefully before putting pen to paper. This is war, ma'am, in all its terrible reality. Try it if you don't believe it.
Bravo to Ella Taylor for her review of Saving Private Ryan. For weeks now we have been subjected to Hollywood telling us how "honest" and "authentic" this movie is. At times, the hype has risen to such levels as to have us believe that Saving Private Ryan is the only honest or accurate war film ever made. And now we have Steven Spielberg on a road trip across America saying that he made this a film to tell the "truth" about World War II. What? Everyone else - Sam Fuller in The Big Red One, Sam Peckinpah in Cross of Iron, Cornel Wilde in Beach Red, Bernhard Wicki in The Bridge, to name just four examples - was lying about it?
Steven Spielberg is a gifted filmmaker, but as Ms. Taylor so rightly points out, he is his own worst enemy. He should have enough confidence in his work to let it speak for itself. If the film itself doesn't speak to the audience, then no amount of explanations by Spielberg outside the theater will help.
Which is not to say that Saving Private Ryan doesn't speak to its audience. Tom Hanks will undoubtedly receive an Oscar nomination. (Indeed, the performances in this film, from star to extra, are uniformly good.) So too will Steven Spielberg and his film, for this is the kind of movie the Academy loves. Saving Private Ryan reaffirms our deeply held belief that Americans can and will kill without becoming killers, that no matter how terrible the struggle, how bloody the carnage, we will emerge not only victorious but untainted by the evil that is war.
-David L. Reinke
In an otherwise insightful review of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, Ella Taylor stumbles badly when she asserts that D-Day operations were "bungled" by Allied strategists.
An invasion of France had been agreed upon as an eventual strategic and logistical necessity as early as 1942. Allied landings in North Africa and Italy were necessary rehearsals for green U.S. troops who, before 1944, would have stood no chance against the German western defenses, even if they had had the necessary materiel, which they did not. On 6 June 1944, Allied planners, far from bungling, succeeded in pulling off the most successful military deception since the Trojan horse. A "phantom" army was created around General George Patton, leading the German High Command to move precious Panzer divisions from Normandy to positions reinforcing the Pas de Calais. This magnificent Allied strategic deception was crucial in preventing the German defenders from eliminating the Anglo-American beachhead. God only knows what would have happened otherwise.
All the ranks who participated in the landing more or less understood the odds involved, and even informed civilians knew that an invasion could not possibly be anything but the "abattoir" referred to by Ms. Taylor. This is what makes the dedication and courage of the nearly wiped-out 2nd Ranger Battalion so moving. The heart-tearing emotion evoked by Spielberg's honest account of their conscious self-sacrifice is still keenly felt by everyone who appreciates what was at stake at Normandy.
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