Flickadaweek: Flags of Our Fathers

Stephen Spielberg’s got himself a mini-World War II franchise going, what with Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and now (“now” being a relative term) Flags of Our Fathers, the Clint Eastwood flick Spielberg exec-produced. All of these works have some themes in common–the nobility of the soldier, the equivocation of the higher-ups, the skeevy weaselishness (is that a word?) of the rear-echelon chickenhawks at home. They’re also all filled with brutal battle scenes–no “Sarge, tell my girl I love her!” as a soldier gently closes his eyes here.

Flags focuses on the way imagery can be manipulated in wartime to produce the desired bloodlust in the American public. (Man, I’m having a hard time seeing how this could possibly be relevant today.) In this case, the image is the famous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi atop the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima. Interesting thing is, that photo was staged–the actual flag-raising was done long before. And several of the participants in the “real” flag-raising died in insurgent attacks before the photo-op one occurred.

The movie jumps back and forth between the battle for the island and the battle for public perception. The military wants the flag-raisers stumping for war bonds, and the soldiers themselves feel a range of emotions from survivor’s guilt to glory-hounding. In the end, however, the movie strives to answer the question of Why…Why would these men–boys, really–sacrifice themselves for a chunk of land thousands of miles from home? It’s a question that never would have occurred to pre-Vietnam filmmakers, but it’s a question every war movie simply must ask now.

Eastwood told the other side of this story in Letters from Iwo Jima, which I’ll watch soon and offer up for analysis here. Till then, go check out Flags of Our Fathers…and try not to sit on a couch and eat chips and salsa while you do so, or you’re gonna feel seriously guilty. Trust me.


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