The movie starts poignantly – an old man starts walking up the stairs – and falls – obviously haunted by a past event. The voice in the background talks about how we humans want to simplify everything to believe. That war is between good and evil. And we are good. And they are evil. And how we are brave and gallant and courageous.
Because, then, the voice says what is, the central essence of the movie – that human beings like to consume things that are simple. And things that are not quagmired the shades of grey. Because we believe in good. And evil. Heroes and Villains. And the list can go on. In real life. And in reel life.
The movie itself, is a portrayal of the art of the depiction of a war for popular consumption – with the messiness taken out. It is about three protagonists who were a part of that group of soldiers that raised the flag in Iwo Jima in WWII – that subsequently became such a famous image – and how they were used by the state machinery to raise money for the war. About how something relatively inconsequential in the war was taken, dramatized and sold for public consumption to raise money.
The movie goes back and forth in time – a son interviewing veterans about his father – and they talk about how non-dramatically their comarades died – about how scared they were – about how everything – at that time seems so utterly pointless.
And on the more personal side, it is the story of those kids who are plucked out of the battlefield in Iwo Jima for this nationwide campaign – their personal struggles with the lies and the crass dramatization of an event that is so intensely poignant and sad for them. About how one of them implodes slowly. And how, after they outrun their usefulness, the system discards them for good.
Ultimately, its a movie, much like the book – All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – it talks about war – sans all its perceived glory, heroism and valour. It talks about boys and men in the face of bullets. It talks about kids dying pointlessly. It talks about the struggles of the three “heroes” who are paraded around the United States to raise money for the war effort.
And ultimately, when the movie is over, it conveys the futility of it all – at least for the players who took part in it – if not for the geopolitical leaders whose decisions fashion the life, death and future of so many such young men ( and now women)
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