The military has been presented on film in many ways, in many wars, and with many points of view. This top 10 looks at a few brave souls who died for the “cause”.
Sometimes the build-up is prolonged, the music reaches a crescendo, there’s often last words like “It’s better this way” and “be there for mum”. Sometimes it is instant and over in a second, other times it is long-lasting, the heartstrings pulled so tightly tears burst from the eyes. Sometimes it is unexpected and shocking, other times it is bloody and violent, forcing you to turn away. Sometimes it is sad, sometimes it is relieving. Sometimes we care, other times we don’t. Sometimes it is significant, other times it is inconsequential. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t.
Filmmakers have portrayed the military death countless times throughout cinema’s history. Looking back it is interesting to see what distinguishes them and how filmmakers have, through controlled point of view, adapted our emotions to feel a certain way. At face value, any death would be considered a moment of sadness but consider rejoicing over the “bad guy” succumbing to the hero, or the faceless destruction of enemy forces in films about World War 1 and 2, or Vietnam, for example.
The following ten scenes definitely leave a lasting impression…
10. Jorge “Poncho” Ramirez – Predator (John McTiernan, USA, 1987)
Poor Poncho. In John McTiernan’s Predator he has most of his bones broken by a huge swinging tree stump to the chest. Surviving for a few moments Arnold Schwarzenegger is powerless to stop the crippled soldier from succumbing to a fatal blast of the alien creature’s shoulder-mounted blaster.
9. Bubba – Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, USA, 1994)
In saving the lives of many American soldiers wounded during a battle in Vietnam, Forrest can’t arrive in time to save his close friend Bubba who passes away on the battlefield.
8. Private Vasquez and Lieutenant Gorman – Aliens (James Cameron, USA, 1986)
The two marines sacrifice themselves to protect the mission. Not only do they manage to kill a bunch of aliens in the process of blowing themselves up, they inadvertently cause one of the characters to fall down a ventilation shaft meaning main character has a new rescue mission on her hands. It all makes for very exciting cinema.
7. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw – Top Gun (Tony Scott, USA, 1986)
Fighter pilot Goose’s death is always an affecting moment in Top Gun as he’s set up as the only person who really understands Maverick and appears to be the over-confident pilot’s only true friend. With grandiose posturing and protracted score that relates his death directly back to his wife and child, Goose’s death brings on the tears – every time.
6. Obi-Wan Kenobi – Star Wars (George Lucas, USA, 1977)
More paramilitary than military, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death at the hands of Darth Vader never fails to affect audiences, even if they’ve seen it countless times before.
5. The Cow – Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, USA, 1979)
Not directly related to the military but sacrificed during a military conflict and in a film about the Vietnam war, the cow’s beheading in Apocalypse Now has always left a lasting impression on me.
4. Irwin Wade – Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, USA, 1999)
The medic imbedded within the group search for Private Ryan is fatally injured during a fire-fight to secure a small German outpost. His fellow soldiers desperately try to save his life but they realise it is too late. In his final breaths Irwin requests an overdose of morphine in order for him to die in the least amount of pain.
3. Sergeant Elias – Platoon (Oliver Stone, USA, 1986)
In one of the most iconic images from cinema’s recreation of the Vietnam war, Willem Defoe succumbs to a hail of bullets in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. The image of Defoe’s death mimics an actual photograph taken during the conflict of a solider by Art Greenspon in 1968.
2. Private Gomer Pyle – Full Metal Jacket (Stanley Kubrick, USA, 1987)
Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant anti-war film sees Gomer Pile take his own life after constant bullying from his fellow trainees and commanding officer.
1. Private Stanley “Fish” Mellish – Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, USA, 1999)
A scene that has always stuck in my mind since I first saw it is Mellish’s death in Saving private Ryan. I think it is one of the most powerful sequences in Spielberg’s World War 2 epic. It is the agonising wait as the German soldier slowly pierces the American’s heart, eventually killing him that not only distinguishes itself as a powerfully shocking image but a metaphor for the futility of war. Both men have one goal in the sequence – the kill the other. There is no quarter given, and there can only be one victor. But the one who walks out of that room has no time to savour such an outcome, as he is quickly thrown into the next kill zone. That the German soldier ignores the feeble Upham, who fails to arrive in time to help Mellish, is further acknowledgment of the sheer wastefulness of war and the overwhelming fear all those that fought in it had to endure.
What films based on the military have had an effect on you?
Written and compiled by Rory Fish.
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