Saving Private Ryan: the Realism and Beauty of the Movie

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No matter how old you may be or what time of day it is, a movie will always sounds appealing. The beauty of a movie is that it can be ambiguous towards an individual’s emotions. A movie can make you shed tears, put the biggest smile on your face, frustrate you, or even raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Journalist Agnes Pawlowski claims that “one way that we perceive emotion in film is through a process [she] calls the Mirror Rule, which says that it is a good idea to mimic the visual input that you’re seeing” (4). Although every single film that has ever been produced cannot be considered “good”, even those that the general population do not enjoy will always appeal to a specific group of people in some type of way. Appealing to emotions should be at the forefront of importances in a film. Think to yourself, if a movie does not provoke any emotions within you, is it really worth watching? Is it even possible for a film to not create some kind of sensation within your emotions? As humans, we often allow our emotions to drive our thoughts and actions. Therefore, a movie that appeals to the emotions of the viewer or audience is extremely important in regards to creating a film that is memorable. There hook of a film is just as important as appealing to the emotions of the audience. Are you going to continue to watch a movie that has a boring beginning? Most likely not. A filmmakers’ ability to use strategic methods to catch the attention of the audience and to reel them in is what starts a great movie off. Saving Private Ryan is a film by Steven Spielberg that hits the mark on every target and fulfills the definition of how a great movie should be. From the near perfect representation of the Invasion of Normandy to the cinematography that captures every miniscule detail to the meaningful plotline that alludes to several underlying themes, these are a few of the countless times where attention to details appeals to the emotions of the viewer and creates that “wow” factor that we crave and expect when viewing a film.

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Right off the bat, it needs to be said that I believe Steven Spielberg is one of the best filmmakers of all time and that, alone, already makes Saving Private Ryan great. He always knows exactly where he wants to take his audience, and then takes them there. If he wants to tug at our heartstrings, he will make us fall in love with a brown and wrinkly space visitor we might otherwise find grotesque. If he wants to make us inch the blanket up over our eyes, he'll crank up the grim orchestral music and put us face-to-face with a toothy Great White. If he wants us to truly understand an entirely different kind of horror, he will show us small children leaping into a pool of outhouse waste to escape their murderous Holocaust captors. Essentially, there are two different types of Steven Spielberg movies out there: a hard-hitting, gritty drama or the family-friendly adventure. With that being said, Saving Private Ryan, without a doubt, stands out the most for having the most full-bodied emotional experience of any movie produced by Spielberg. Although the film ultimately provides an extremely accurate depiction of war, being full of blood and gore, it also has another side to it where emotions are intertwined. There are several moments that are filled with lighthearted humor mixed with gut-wrenching death scenes, and a series of genuine brotherly bonding between the squad of brave soldiers on their journey to save Private James Ryan. This film combines two of the most important characteristics that we think of when we hear about war. They are frequently told about independently, but typically never together. These two differing aspects honor the heroes who bravely fought in the battles and gives an accurate depiction of the horrors that come with the brutality of war. According to D-Day expert Antony Beever, Saving Private Ryan is “probably the most realistic battle sequences ever filmed” (4). Considering that this movie has been said to be more accurate than any other war film ever produced, it appeals to those who have experienced war themselves. It can also serve as an eye opener for those who are not familiar with what it is like on the battlefront, like most of the general population. The emotions that this film provokes for those who have not been in battle before will just blow you away. It makes us realize how lucky we are that our own homeland is not where the battlefield is occurring and the fact that we are so privileged to have brave men and women put their lives on the line for our safety and wellbeing.

For many, the first battle scene blew them away, hook them on, and held the movie together. Although Saving Private Ryan first hit theaters back in the summer of 1998, it is still one of the most accurate depictions of a gold-standard filmmaking of a war movie. Everything from the attention to every little sound and the realistic performances of those in the movie to the unflinching depiction of brutality and Spielberg's superb ability to maintain a logical sense of order amid all of the chaos, the opening battle scene remains a masterpiece in action filmmaking and dramatic storytelling. The brave act of storming the beach and being absolutely torn apart. The chances of developing alcoholism and post traumatic stress as a result of intense warfare. The act of plowing down enemies who have already surrendered and ignoring the Geneva Accords. I believe that those are the greatest parts of Saving Private Ryan, the first thirty minutes captures a sense of ' loss of innocence', a sheer thought of 'this is reality', and it reveals the harsh truth that war, no matter what state it is in, either it is happening or not, should not be praised or celebrated as it had been done before. The eeriness that the term “war” possesses always sparks a feeling of darkness within me and even when our own country comes out victorious, the consequences of war are always apparent and should not be overlooked. The detailing is brilliant, right from the beginning where a soldier is throwing up on a vessel that is headed towards the shore to the sinister atmosphere to the disarray on Omaha Beach. Above all else, I especially loved the moment of complete silence, when a soldier is hit by a nearby explosion that shakes the entire Earth. For a moment, all you can hear is a buzzing sound, you can see the dazed look that is plastered on the soldier’s face, and the very shaky movement of the camera. All of these components creates a very dramatic scene that keeps your eyes locked on the screen. The ironic scenes create a sense of shock. It makes you think in your mind “wow, how did that just happen so quickly”? For example, when one of the soldier removes his helmet to check if it had been penetrated after he thought to have been struck by a bullet, then in the next moment, a bullet actually strikes him right in the forehead. The attention that was given to this opening scene was crucial for making the audience realize that this film was not going to be just like every other war movie before it. It reveals the dark truth’s of war and portrayed it for what it truly is, utter chaos, people lying on a cold beach screaming in pain and agony, blood splattered everywhere, essentially every soldier running for their lives through water trying to survive in the madness. These moments are not focusing on heroism, nothing is being glamorized. We are just seeing a group of soldiers, fighting for their lives, trying to escape the insanity, and just doing what they are supposed to be doing, their jobs.

As the film progresses, things become more complicated and concise from there as the Spielberg incorporates a history lesson, non-stop action and character-driven drama together all into one cohesive narrative from beginning to end. However, despite the immense scope and various underlying themes of the film, Spielberg does not forget or lose sight of the true meaning behind the storyline. While many of today’s war about war get bogged down in the spectacle of their narratives and the inaccurate depiction of war. Through all of the action and gore that the war portrays throughout the movie, Spielberg is able to appeal to the audience’s emotions by hitting the soft spots in their hearts. Saving Private Ryan constantly comes back to look at the lives of the characters, reveals their inner lives and desperation, and portrays their immense desire to escape the the war after their mission is complete. Putting heroism aside, I believe that we often forget that these brave soldiers are human, just as much as we are. Nobody wants to be apart of a war, but these people have chosen to sacrifice their lives for our country. Considering the fact that the mission to save Private Ryan added no actual value to winning the actual war itself, rather it was for a mother who had already lost her other three sons and only had one remaining. That, in itself, creates a strong sense of sacrifice and bravery. For me, it made me reflect back on my own life and inspired me to be selfless towards others because these soldiers put their lives on the line to help lessen the grievance of a mother who had lost almost all of her children already. Spielberg incorporating this aspect into the film was another genius move. The film starts out on a sad note, but once Private Ryan is saved, we could only imagine the joy that the mother felt when her only remaining son returned from war after a mission was conducted and miraculously, he was located.

The filmmaking of a movie has the ability to broaden a person’s perspective and open their eyes to opposing views. In the essential scenes of Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg manages to morph components of sound, setting, cinematography, and editing to reel in the audience’s attention and to put them on edge for what is to come. The sporadic movements and skillful positioning of the camera during the scenes puts the audience into the scene. They feel like they are actually in the landing craft and makes them feel like they are a part of the strike force. While the scene has the focus mainly on the members of a single landing craft, because of a strategic high angle shot, it makes you realize that the size of the attack force is much greater than you would think. The camera is angled in a way that the multitude of similar crafts in the vicinity is clear and all are moving in the same direction, going at high speeds to make in to shore as quickly as possible. Each craft is filled with soldiers gallantly facing the front of the boat while salt water sprays over the bows of their vessel as it glides over the rolling waves. While the camera is focused on the main craft that contained the members of Captain Miller’s squad, the camera is then held at eye-level to record individual close-ups of the many soldiers aboard. The camera moves along with the boat as it makes its way through the water and provides a visual sensation for the audience of personally being there and gazing into a soldier’s eyes – an emotional connection with the subject is formed. 

The realism of the plotline that is combined with breathtaking visuals and Oscar Award winning sound editing and cinematography make for near perfect, realistic war scenes. It makes you feel as if you are actually there. As the craft approaches land and begins to prepare to lower the ramp that will allow the soldiers to storm onto the beach, the camera is positioned at an over-the-shoulder view that enhances the fact that the entire shoreline of the beach was humongous. The shots include a behind the back view of the soldiers anxiously waiting for the ramp to deploy. High cliffs fill the background with concrete bunkers integrated into the cliffside. Right as the ramps are deployed for the soldiers to storm the beach, the bunkers unleash a rainstorm of bullets upon the soldiers in the water. Bullets tore the bodies of the soldiers on the frontlines apart, while the soldiers in the back watched in terror. The next camera shot is over-the-shoulder at a high-angle. It emphasizes the strength of the MG-42 machine guns as the operator in one of the bunkers unleashes the bullets down towards the beach shoreline. The camera then goes behind to the bunker, where we can see through the silhouetted gun placements and watched as they fired upon the helpless soldiers below with ease. The camera’s positioning inside of the bunkers and the panoramic view of the entire battlefield leaves us with a sense of complete dominance by those in the bunker.  

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