Sunday, July 08, 2007


2005, US, directed by Sam Mendes

Though its timing seemed to be perfect, released in the middle of another conflict in Iraq, Jarhead seems to have been (unjustly) overlooked by many critics, and had only middling box office success. The critical reaction is perhaps related to the film's lack of an overt political stance - the kind of anger that seeped through Vietnam films is absent here, maybe because American casualties were so few that homefront outrage is that much more difficult to generate, though there's no doubting the film's view of the casualties inflicted on the Iraqi side, with many of the dead incinerated while attempting to retreat. Despite the stark differences with Vietnam, however, the film reverts constantly to films about that conflict, name-checking - either explicitly or implicitly - Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. The last film is seen on the big screen at a Marine base, used to whip the troops into a frenzy - a frenzy that evokes the sequence in Gremlins where the nasty little critters sing along to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - just before the announcement of their deployment to Iraq.

In some ways, the relative lack of a political stance is simply a function of the film's insistent focus on the men (there are no women here) sent to fight the war rather than on those (men) who sent them there; it's situated in that difficult grey area that calls on the viewer to support the troops without necessarily supporting their war, or even, perhaps their military culture. While Mendes's repeated reference to other (often stronger) films is ultimately quite distracting, he does create a real sense of the strangeness of this particular military deployment, with months of waiting in the desert preceding one of the shortest, most anti-climactic of conflicts, from the soldier's perspective, with no outlet for the expectations built by training and propaganda.

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