A movie that is more in the spirit of ‘Apocalypse Now’ than say ‘Saving Private Ryan’ –in fact, a sequence of the former movie is shown within the movie itself. The best scenes, the most savage scenes of this movie are the ones in which there is no fighting going on…the hell that war is, is brought out by the silent memorials to violence, the intense boredom punctuated by self-destructive behaviour, the fact that soldiers are obvious pawns in larger geo-politic games, the burning oil wells that gets us close to a vision of hell on earth. Perhaps the most emblematic scene in the whole movie is when at the end, when war is declared over, Jake Gyllenhaal says with in a rueful voice “And I didn’t get to fire my gun once”.
There are many ways in which you can watch this movie. At many levels, this is an anti-war movie. the pointlessness of the war and its violence is brought out powerfully. The effect that a gung-ho, macho culture inculcated in the marines, has on their perspective (especially their blood-lust) is another indication of the anti-war theme. The scenes of the civilian massacre and the scene of the corpse and the horse amidst the burning oil wells are terrifying in their power to kill the sense of that anyone can have regarding the ‘glory’ of war.
At another level, however, this is a movie about the psychological effect that the war has on men fighting it. Operating in a Kafkaesque world, they undergo behaviour changes, show signs of nascent insanity and constantly fight depression against their helplessness exacerbated by the breakdown of their personal relationships (and some of the breakdowns can be pretty brutal). You get a sense of their world as you absorb the environment in the movie.
The good thing about the movie is that you don’t get bored. The movie intelligently provides the other view of the war – a war that is fought more by politicians than by soldiers, where a marine is a mere pawn to be moved across a vast desert chessboard…
A powerful movie with no over the top dialogues or scenes. The dialogues in fact are minimal which tends to increase the effect of the environment.
The feeling that you are left with in the end is captured perfectly by the voice over of Jake Gyllenhaal at the end – “all wars are different, all wars are the same”