Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Art Imitates Life, and Even Not Art Does

Mr. Aimai and I have eclectically bad taste in movies. We're so sick we have been watching a movie a night. First, Shaolin Temple something or other with horrendously bad subtitles, a Shaw Brother's Classic. Then the latest Die Hard movie. And last night The Americanization of Emily, Paddy Chayefsky's anti war classic. Got up this morning to read this, over at Kos, about the "families of the fallen"

Most of the families of the fallen that he meets with have one request of the President, which is: Do not let my loved one's sacrifice be in vain...

Q Aren't there also families of the bereaved who ask him to stop the war?

MS. PERINO: There have been, but the vast majority have all asked him not to allow that sacrifice to be in vain. But certainly there are some.

The Americanization of Emily takes the "good war" the "great war" and makes the protagonist a coward--a coward on principle. Charlie is a "dog robber" whose job it is to keep the Navy Brass rolling in good food, liquor and women while they wait for D-day. Meanwhile his commanding officers are obsessed not with the war between countries but the war between services. Charlie's admiral has a nervous break down and simultaneously decides that they can win the war for the Navy by filming "the first dead man" on Omaha beach and making sure its a Navy Man. He's sure he can sell this propaganda piece to the President and the people and get the Navy the primacy it craves after the war. In the event, Charlie ends up being that "first man" on the beach, driven up by his best friend firing a gun at him as he tries to run away. I won't spoil the end by telling you what happens after. Its stagy and filled with set pieces, but against the backdrop of the continued insistence that we must continue *this war* for the sake of those who have alreadly died in it, it rings out like a Temple Gong calling us to action:

From a review of The Americanization of Emily:

When Charlie notices some photographs on the mantel, Emily explains that she has lost her father, brother and husband to the war. He responds by saying, "I’m not sentimental about war. I see nothing noble in widows."

Emily warns him that her mother is a bit mad and has taken to referring to her fallen husband and son as though they were still alive. He does his best to charm Mrs. Barham (Joyce Grenfell), and then initially attempts to impart his views on war in a facetious manner:

War isn’t hell at all. It’s man at his best; the highest morality he’s capable of … it’s not war that’s insane, you see. It’s the morality of it. It’s not greed or ambition that makes war: it’s goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons: for liberation or manifest destiny. Always against tyranny and always in the interest of humanity. So far this war, we’ve managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we’ll have to destroy all of man in order to preserve his damn dignity. It’s not war that’s unnatural to us – it’s virtue. As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers. So, I preach cowardice. Through cowardice, we shall all be saved.

She is completely oblivious to his irony:

That was exalting, Commander … after every war, you know, we always find out how unnecessary it was. And after this one, I’m sure all the generals will dash off and write books about the blunders made by other generals, and statesmen will publish their secret diaries, and it’ll show beyond any shadow of a doubt that war could easily have been avoided in the first place. And the rest of us, of course, will be left with the job of bandaging the wounded and [burying] the dead.

His mockery unsuccessful, Charlie makes his point as clear as possible in one of the most pointed, devastating anti-war monologues ever heard in film:

Charlie: I don’t trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It’s always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it’s always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades … we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows’ weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud.

Mrs. Barham: You’re very hard on your mother. It seems a harmless enough pretense to me.

Charlie: No, Mrs. Barham. No, you see, now my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September. May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave.

Charlie’s compelling speech is so stunning, so jarring, that Mrs. Barham snaps out of her delusional denial and admits aloud, for the first time, that her husband and son are dead.