The Pacific

Steven Spielberg has done an amazing job taking the romanticism out of war. As evidenced in the opening sequences of Saving Private Ryan, and now to more immediate and skillful effect in The Pacific, the scenes of war are absolutely terrifying. Gone is the Platoon caricature and the Apocalypse Now hallucinatory fascination that had me and my friends stalking through the woods of my backyard in our father’s old fatigues with stolen packs of Kools and shouting racial slurs to which we had no knowledge of their meaning or ignorance. Perhaps Platoon hit at the right time when our testosterone was just starting to trickle through the blood, or that we grew up in times of peace and such wars were exactly what we saw – old movies. Either way, I find it hard to imagine that I would find myself wanting to play  “Guadalcanal” or “Normandy” with my buddies, after seeing the fear, confusion and incalculable casualties displayed in Spielberg’s work. I think my impressionable, under-developed eleven year-old mind would still grasp the fact that this was not something I should be emulating, even if I was aware of the historical significance. Therefore, I blame Oliver Stone and my own poor judgment for ending up with such a warped style of an equally racist American game of yore, Cowboys and Indians.

We are halfway through the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg ten-part miniseries and I find it often on my mind, and always more for the history that it is bringing to light than the personal stories it uses to deliver this account. The acting is quite good, yet at times a little obvious and hokey in its 1940’s young American male portrayals (watch Lackey in episode 3 when he first has dinner with his Australian-Greek girlfriend’s family). The dialogue feels as though there is a strange push and pull between modern language and that which sounds culled from old movies and newsreels. Granted, few of us will ever know how men in this situation truly spoke or acted, and it is not much of true point of contention, but it does at times take me out of the moment when I often find myself wondering, “Why does it seem like I could hang with these dudes, when I couldn’t hang with my grandfather?” I find it no small coincidence that our main protagonist, Lackey, bears a striking likeness in delivery to that of our Co-Executive Producer, Tom Hanks, who himself has come to embody the perfect balance of wacky, classic American charm and gritty bouts of hardened world-weariness. After five episodes I am still not sure if I even care about these characters, but I am certainly riveted to the couch on Sundays at 9pm to learn more about such an important battle that has gone little recognized.

I knew that I wanted to watch this series, but was a bit daunted by the potential heavy-handedness of a Spielberg/Hanks co-conspiracy. There is no doubt that these men have a deep reverence for such history and laudably use their stature to create projects to bring these accounts to a wide audience (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers), but both are also masters of emotional manipulation (Schindler’s List, Philadelphia). Granted, Hanks and Spieldberg use their considerable talents for good, but I remained slightly wary if the teaming of the two would cause them to over-shoot the mark with heart-rending drama. So when I found myself with a few hours to spare, I sat down and began the first three episodes – intending to see if one would grab my attention.

As all good programs do, and HBO has become the master of, I had no choice but to watch all the installments available to me at that very moment. My roommate, Grant, returned home upon my completion of the second episode as I eagerly awaited the third, and I excitedly told him about this new series and how well the living accounts set up the dramatization to follow. This whole new world opened up to me with real faces and voices and Hanks adeptly narrating the time-line. In yet another example of the failure of American History in the public schools, this utterly crucial offensive was completely new to me. As I recounted what I had learned, Grant’s eyes beamed and he could not contain interrupting me to tell me that his grandfather was on Guadalcanal flying planes for this very event. I knew the grandfather that he spoke of only in that Grant was deeply saddened by his passing a couple of years back, and now learning of this page in history, I too was deeply saddened that I would never meet him – and thank him.

In mid sentence, Grant ran to his room and returned with his grandfather’s shirt, complete with the Guadalcanal patch. I was in complete shock that not more than two hours ago I was completely oblivious to this event and now I was holding the shirt of one of these men. I felt strangely proud for Grant and extremely privileged to now know the depth of his grandfather’s service. We spoke at length about the war and Grant shared many of his grandfather’s stories, mostly the ones he would share with the children, which involved the nuisance of the crabs, rats and rain. Sure enough, the fourth and fifth episodes deal specifically with these plagues and I couldn’t wait to tell Grant. I wished that his grandfather could have contributed to the series, as yet another token of gratitude for such service, but unfortunately most of these soldiers are gone.

I applaud The Pacific for (so far) only giving glory to the often times overlooked sacrifice, while in no way romanticizing the carnage. The enemy remains largely faceless, which is how it appears to those who are merely given orders to kill, and that sets up the small seeds of doubt and questioning which grow larger as the fighting continues. The presence of God, religion, and the search for answers to the hideousness of war, laps in and out like the tide slowly rolling in before it eventually consumes the beach. Our characters are equally loveable and forgettable, which they have to be as we root for them under such bleak odds. Screen time is well divided to examine the inhumanity and viciousness of war and the historical importance of the tactical successes. Each victory is so brutal and savage that the viewer just wants it to be over, and that must be what it felt like on those islands.

As we find ourselves still at war and equally uninformed, the timing of this piece, I’m sure, is not coincidental – Americans in a foreign landscape with an oppressive climate, defending, killing and avenging past grievances, where there is little hope, glory and understanding. Like the decorated war hero sent home to push war bonds, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are doing the same thing for the war in Afghanistan, but thankfully, they are merely illustrating the sacrifice of the men and keeping it less a pro-America rallying cry. They are indeed fife and drumming up pride and support for our country, but they are both keen to demonstrate how gruesome and unfortunate war is, especially for those who actually have to pull the trigger.


Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: