Saturday, October 03, 2009

Human Character Under Fire

Courage Under Fire is a 1996 film directed by Edward Zwick, and starring Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Lou Diamond Phillips and Matt Damon. It is one of the first films to depict the 1991 Gulf War. The film uses the same cinematic concept as the 1950 Japanese film Rashōmon, wherein the truth of an event becomes difficult to verify due to the conflicting accounts of different witnesses.

Synopsis of the movie plot is (spoiler)

Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) was involved in a friendly fire incident in Al Bathra during the Gulf War. He was an M1 Abrams tank battalion commander who, during the nighttime confusion of Iraqi tanks infiltrating his unit's lines, gave the order to fire, destroying one of his own tanks and killing his friend Captain Boylar. The details were covered up (Boylar's parents are told that their son was killed by enemy fire), and Serling was reassigned to a desk job.

Later, he is assigned to determine if Captain Karen Emma Walden (Meg Ryan) should be the first woman to receive (posthumously) the Medal of Honor for valor in combat in the First Gulf War. A Medevac Huey commander, she was sent to rescue the crew of a helicopter that had been shot down. Finding them under heavy fire from an Iraqi tank and infantry, she had her men drop a fuel bladder on the tank and ignited it with a flare gun. Shortly after, her helicopter was also hit and downed. The two crews were unable to join forces. The survivors were rescued the next day, but Walden had been killed in action. More here

Aside from a very thoughtful 'what really happened' movie, it is also a movie about forgiveness. Is there a crime you can commit that is so hideous that you cannot forgive yourself? That what Lt. Colonel Nathan (played excellently by Denzel Washington) thought he did when he accidentally blew up his best friend's tank in the heat of battle. It was classified as 'friendly' fire when there is nothing even remotely friendly about it. On reassignment back to the States, Nathan is haunted by dreams, driven to drinks and neglecting those he loves. Investigating Captain Karen Walden proved to be a cathesis for him. It is surprising to see Meg Ryan in this role. One always associate Meg Ryan in a romance, superbly attired with not a hair out of place. Seeing her dirtied in combat fatigue is as surprising as seeing Roger Moore in a German Colonel's uniform in Escape from Athena (1979).

In his investigation of Captain Walden's death in a combat situation, he comes to know of the evil in the hearts of men and the subsequent consequences of these men - hardened or guilt ridden and driven to drugs, severe emotional suffering and even suicide. In doing so he is forced to face his own demons of self-guilt. Although all actions have consequences, Nathan learns that he has a choice in how he deals with these consequences. Forgiveness, even self-forgiveness is a choice. This is especially true in situations where one have no control over.

Redemption or atonement is not something that we should take lightly.




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