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birthday at the movies

last friday was my birthday, and christy gave me an awesome gift: a day at the cinema. i saw a double feature: pan's labyrinth, and letters from iwo jima. both films have received lots of oscar buzz. iwo for directing and best picture among others, and pan for foreign language and many artistic categories. i was interested in pan's labyrinth because it was described as a horrific fairy tale with amazing visuals (hence the oscar noms). it did not disappoint. it was haunting and thrilling.

i saw iwo jima for several reasons: i am a huge clint eastwood fan, especially so when he is directing. plus i saw last year's flags of our fathers, which told the iwo story from the american perspective, specifically the men who were part of the famed "raising of the flag" picture. i still can't believe that mr. clark from oak lawn was there and knew those guys!

letters from iwo jima is told from the japanese side. we hear of their prejudices toward americans, the accusations made against the u.s.a. by the imperial government. quickly we realize that the young japanese forced into service on that remote island were incredibly similar to "our boys." they too had family left behind. they too had dreams destroyed by war. they too suffered from disease. they too realized very quickly how futile warfare is.

i was especially struck by one scene, the most powerful in the movie for me, when some japanese capture a wounded american soldier. earlier in the film we witness another american soldier taken, this one murdered by his captors. later we see japanese deserters murdered by their american counterparts. in the middle is this encounter. the commander of the japanese soldiers was an olympic champion and had spent some time in america in a time well before the war. he understood english. he and the boy chat about life in america, and later after the soldier dies the japanese officer discovers a letter written by the boy's mother. he translates it for the others. the last line reads, "always do the right thing, because it's the right thing." toward the end of the film the commander's last words to his troops echo this mother's advice.

as wonderful and imaginative as pan's labyrinth was, i know it was just a fantasy, albeit one with political significance for the time period. letters from iwo jima, however, was no fairy tale. especially in a time when our men and women find themselves once again in harm's way. i suppose america is no different than any other nation in that we who do not have to fight tend to overglorify warfare. those on the front lines, however, seem to tell a different story. while happy and honored to serve their country, the truth is that they long for home and family and peace like everyone else. i say this as one who has never been called to serve in the military. what iwo says is that soldiers on either side of the conflict share many things in common, regardless of the differences of ideology of their leaders, who make the difficult decision to send them into harm's way.

one mother's advice to her american son inspired japanese soldiers-- the enemy. in that cave on that desolate piece of japanese real estate, the reality of a common humanity was made obvious to those in the film, and those watching in the audience. they looked different, talked different, dressed different, understood government differently, but underneath all of that they were pretty similar to the other side. "always do the right thing, because it's the right thing." good advice, no matter whose side you're on.


Anne said…
Weird...Richard just watched Flag of our Father last night and was talking about wanting to see the new movie that you're talking about here. He said the same thing about Bryan-that he couldn't believe he was there.

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