Screening Room

Screening Room

War Is for Heroics: Three cultures try to locate meaning in mayhem

By Frank Pittman

May/June 2007

William Tecumseh Sherman reported that "War is hell" (and in his march through Georgia he made it so). He went on to say "Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation." I never went to war. Everything I know about it comes from movies. There have been many movies about men and boys at war. They're all the same: some boys get blown up, others get moments of glory, a few get both. And the "good guys" invariably win.

The wars currently being produced by our leaders (who hid from war when it was their turn to go) aren't as popular today as they were when glory was the anticipated outcome. Our feckless leaders must have seen some sort of glory for themselves when they sent other boys to die for them. But they've given patriotism such a bad name that no one now dares to make a jingoistic war movie about glory, about America conquering the world in the name of "manifest destiny."

Three recent war films on the subject include a fairy tale set in the Spanish Civil War of 1944 and two contrasting views of the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. These films, emphasizing the horror and the grimness of war, are much honored, much cried over, but not much seen and cheered.

Pan's Labyrinth is a Spanish-language fantasy written and directed by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. It's set alternately in a fascist fort in a dark Spanish…

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