By Victoria H

November 11th is a day to remember. Yet as a part of a generation that wasn’t alive during either World War, my knowledge is all secondhand. So it can be difficult to understand full weight of the hardships and heartbreak faced during those times. One way to connect and experience those times is through film. Saving Private Ryan was voted as the best war film in 2009 over a decade after its release. While the film as a whole is not perfect, its portrayal of the war, particularly the opening scene, is unforgettable.

The opening scene of the film is brutal and powerful. The film opens on the storming of Omaha Beach on June 6 1944 (D-Day). Immediately you are confronted with the chaos, terror, and brutality that is just as graphic as any war footage. While this is of course a Hollywood film, the violence and brutality is not glossed over. It is this assault on the audience that reminds us all of the true reality of war. Too often Hollywood and video games gloss over the savage reality of war, instead focusing on glory, heroes and villains. This however is not the case with Saving Private Ryan.

This film ensures that you are confronted by the humanity and brutality of the situation. Men vomit, are shot, and have limbs exploded off. The audience has nowhere to hide as the brutal opening sequence lasts nearly 27 minutes. This nowhere to hide approach forces audiences to face the horror of war. Moreover the camera work for this opening sequence draws you into the chaos of the assault with its disjointed action. There is no linear sense to the action portrayed on screen. The scene is filled with disjointed pieces of time. Just as it must have seemed to the people who lived it.

Saving Private Ryan also confronts the notion of heroic and stoic soldiers. It reminds us of the real people, flaws and all, who actually experienced both World Wars. Both wars were not filled with career soldiers. Rather most them started as civilians who then chose to serve. The lives they lived did not prepare them for the brutality and violence of war. The main protagonist, played by Tom Hanks, was an English teacher, another in his company was a university student. These men had chosen normal lives, but war demanded differently of them. They were normal people just like you and me. It is important to remember that the men who fought in these wars originally chose lives similar to our own, but the circumstances of their time forced different choices.

Watching portrayals of war on-screen will never compare to the reality of living through it. But it does give a disconnected generation a glimpse into what war must have been like. It has now been a century since the First World War, and over seventy years since the Second World War; the disconnect from those events is just going to get wider with time. So it is important that we all not forget the horror of war, even if a part of the way we do this is by watching a film.