Is the war in Afghanistan going to become the new subject that Hollywood turns to when fulfilling their quota of war movies? It’s been over 15 years now since “Saving Private Ryan” kicked off a new renaissance in the war film, albeit about World War II and transforming forgotten stories to the big screen. In fact, you could say “Schindler’s List” initially kicked off the growing desire to see more historical war stories beyond the battlefield. Despite “List” not having any U.S. soldier battle scenes, World War II managed to ride a wave toward a successful renaissance in movie theaters.
Now movies about World War II seem to be at a crossroads with our more modern war in Afghanistan. Almost 11 years after the Afghan war started, we’ve been slowly seeing more complex and violent portrayals of what soldiers and Navy SEALs have been going through. The latest is “Lone Survivor” and taking it to the realism Steven Spielberg managed to instill into the modern war film. This take on Afghanistan follows a number of movies in the last nine years that gradually delved deeper into the conflict.
But what cinematic signs are emerging that show us how movies will view the war in Afghanistan down the road?
It’s a bit surreal that movies about Afghanistan are crossing paths with the second wind of World War II movies. I’ve argued recently that the WWII genre is starting to wane, especially with the lack of initial vision on George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men.” Even if aforementioned film ultimately turns out to be successful critically, it’s possible the movies have explored all the best and hidden stories from that war. All else may seem redundant in the message of profound sacrifice everyone still holds close to heart at any mention of World War II.
With movies like “Jarhead”, “In the Valley of Elah” and Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” in the middle to latter part of the 2000’s, we started seeing a circumspect examination of what might be going on in Afghanistan. It wasn’t necessarily unusual to see films being made about a current war when you go with the propaganda WWII films in the early 1940s. That’s been reinvented now with the unique ability to take on a war in brutal cinematic terms while the real war still plays out in one form or another.
No matter that some people look at the Navy SEAL events of “Lone Survivor” as being nearly forgotten now, it sets a pattern for how we’re going to view the war in Afghanistan in future movie portrayals. In fact, it’s possible most future war movies will be about events that took place in Iraq or Afghanistan as the old tactic of allowing 10 or 20 years to pass brings refreshing new visions.
It took more than a decade before movies about World War II became more subjective. The same can be said with movies about Korea and Vietnam. Out of all, only Korea still needs some new insight on film based on the “M*A*S*H” persona still persisting in pop culture. Yet, based on the futile outcome of “Lone Survivor”, it’s looking like future war movies about our current wars are going to be bleaker than even “Private Ryan” showed us.
The next step could be making more movies exploring suicide rates in our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Eventually, we may get the modern-day equivalent of “The Best Years of Our Lives” and set a new standard for what we think of war on the big screen.
That much bleaker view of war, while still honoring the valor of those sacrificing, could end up shaping real-life war policy in coming decades. As the World War II film becomes more relegated to celebrating films of the past rather than new ones, a new generation may be brought up with movies and documentaries about the Afghan war. Anyone just now out of high school and watching “Lone Survivor” might already be shaped in how they’ll react to a new war in the future.
This may influence other movies that take on the future of war. Perhaps even the dare of social sci-fi will eventually depict war in the future as being mass dissension rather than the machismo hi-tech wars we’ve seen so far.
Ironically, that fictional futuristic world might show a new generation managing to learn something from the movies by watching the 21st century cinematic view of war.