Monday, 6 September 2010

Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

I watched these two Clint Eastwood directed back to back in a 5 hour and somewhat draining experience. In terms of a subject within War films I want to talk about for my dissertation I'm still looking for the answer, these two films however have certainly helped bring me closer to that answer. In terms of the themes they cover I feel like I could write a dissertation on just these two films alone. Mostly the over-arching theme of both films is what does it mean to be hero in War? The lovely thing about these two films and answering this question is that it deals with this question from both points of view - the victorious Americans and the defeated Japanese but it comes from a director trying to a create a singular vision.

Flags of Our Fathers


Answering this question 'Who are the hero's in War?' Flags goes about it by portraying the lives of the men who lifted the American flag on top Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. There picture was taken at that moment and overnight the men became symbols of victory in war that the American public were getting tired about having their Husbands and Sons fighting in. The film asks the question of whether or not we ignore the grander picture and loss in life of War in favour of glorifying individuals and individual moments. The men involved begin to feel ashamed to an extent that they're the ones taking all the attention. It also throws into the question the media's role during War. The film wears its themes on its shoulders and is unfortunately rather dull but it is extremely interesting from a thematic point of view.



Letters From Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima is a wonderful film and to me is the much more interesting of two. Ignoring the fact that it's a much a better film that Flags in terms of pacing and character development the questions it answers from a Western cultural point of view are more challenging to answer. Once again it's biggest theme is Heroism. Of course the idea heroism for these Japanese men is much different to their enemies. Defend the Empire of Japan at all cost, even if it means taking your own life, that is what it means to be hero. All the men have families and friends they wish to return to but they face near certain death and no chance of seeing them again. Yet to surrender and give yourself a second chance is the cowards way out and you deserve to die a dishonourable death. The film tries to portray this philosophy from as empathetic and unbiased point of view as it can by having a number of characters take certain paths and the results of their choices. One soldier for example surrenders but is killed by American troops anyway. Another chooses to throw himself strapped with explosives under a tank, however the tanks never come and he survives. The film throws a number of moral choices such as these the viewers way.




More research is going to be needed but thoughts please? I'm very much interested is having just these two films as the focus for my dissertation. Is that a viable option?

6 comments:

tutorphil said...

I haven't seen either film, but experiences suggests that 2 films isn't sufficient material for an entire dissertation; besides, it's too insular.

That said, a detailed analysis of these 2 films constituting an entire chapter (of usually a 3 chapter structure dissertation) would be great, especially if you're suggesting that an analysis of these two films is particularly able to develop your argument about the depiction of war - or is it heroism?

It does seem to me that you're talking, ultimately, about relativism - with war being particularly good at showing up problem with truth (i.e. that it is plural and person/nation/culture specific). If you look at Blair's unpopularity, for example - he presided over a war that has so many 'interpretations' (in a postmodern society that is absolutely sceptical about the existence of singular truths/freedoms/moralities), that he will never 'own' or be able to assert adequately the validity of his own decision.

Perhaps you're really talking about a shift from 'black and white' to grey; war films in the past were notoriously nationalistic and propograndist; now, they're a much more 'difficult' genre - they have been PROBLEMATISED by people's increased sensitivity for relativism (which is why, I'd argue, that Independence Day was such a big hit - because the aliens WERE evil, murdering bastards and no one had to give THEIR cultural perspective a single fucking thought!). The intellectual 'project' of Eastwood's two films was to make manifest that uneasiness and qualm re. the dualities of conflict. He did it my literally giving both versions of the same event...

Tom Beg said...

Food for thought!

Thanks, this is what I needed.

tutorphil said...

Could be useful - might be total crap...

http://www.gradnet.de/papers/pomo02.papers/warandwar.htm

http://www.onpostmodernism.com/movies/default.aspx

http://theoryramblings.blogspot.com/2010/05/inglourious-basterds-fairy-tale-war.html

(an extract from the above 'ramble' - really interesting! (and luckily, supports my theory re. Independence Day as 'safe' war movie for audiences who don't want to engage with the crisis of relativism...)

"As a cultural artifact, film is almost always ideological, particularly those films that are intended for entertainment value that fall into the realm of popular culture. Popular culture always contains ideological elements, either in support of or opposing dominant ideologies. According to the article “Just Like Independence Day!” The Falling Towers on 9/11 and the Hegemonic Function of Intertextuality, the film Independence Day was a work of modernist cinema, and though it was released prior to September 11, 2001 and the events of 9/11 the spike in rentals following 9/11 and a close textual analysis of the film reveals that it was taken following 9/11 to reaffirm the dominant American ideology of the day, particularly the rhetoric of President Bush. By contrast, the same article argues that the postmodern film Fight Club undermined and questioned the dominant ideology of the day. The article argues, following the reasoning presented by Boggs, that postmodern cinema with it “thematic emphasis on chaos, intrigue, and paranoia, death of a hero, disjointed narrative structures, and embrace of dystopia,” questions and critiques hegemonic ideologies. As such, the article breaks down how Independence Day supports the hegemonic ideology through the modernis focus on form, design, determinacy, and genital/phallic featured and contrasts this to the postmodern Fight Club with its anti-form, chance/chaos, indeterminacy, and polymorphous/androgynous features. These elements, which clearly delineate the two films as being modernist and postmodern in approach respectively also reflect how the two films relate to hegemony. The modernist features of the former reinforce hegemony while the postmodern features of the latter question hegemony..."

tutorphil said...

saw this too:

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/rsw/undergrad/cetl/ejournal/issues/volume1issue1/witham/

I was thinking too that, while the Vietnam conflict is widely regarded as the conflict that rocked America's 'singular' conception of war-making (i.e. there are goodies and baddies, and America is the goodie), the first Gulf War (and subsequent conflicts) are regarded as 'postmodern conflicts'. Therefore, it may be useful for you to look at Vietnam Cinema (as the ending of the 'modernist'/monolithic relationship to conflict) and Gulf war subgenre as truly 'postmodern' - I'm thinking of Three Kings, Men Who Stare At Goats...

Tom Beg said...

Thank you for taking the time to do this Phil. :)

tutorphil said...

No probs - the real trick to writing a good dissertation is the same as writing a good work of fiction; know your theme. In your instance, it rather feels as if the war genre is NOT the thematic focus - not really - rather, through tracking the changes in the ways in which war movies treat their subject (and therefore their audiences) - your using this frame of reference to investigate your theme (which is The Decline of Meta-Narratives [or Hegemony in Crisis]) - so, it could be that your actual dissertation questions reads something like - An investigation of the crisis in Hegemony through the analysis of the American War Film between the dates of "?" and "?" - (only your title would be pithier). But notice now the thematic hierarchy (war film as means of identifying the crisis in hegemony) and notice too how just looking at the American War Film inclusive of certain dates gives your research a limit and a strong sense of purpose.