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October 24, 2005


Have you ever been in a war? I didnt think so. How do you know what does or does not portray the "insanity of war"?

I think some of the comments you make are very insightful, however, I believe your statement, "Jarhead feels painfully narrow in scope and, thus, pointless," signals toward a larger idea Mendes was attempting to convey. Specifically, the use of existentialist metaphors when considered in light of the conflict itself and the plight of the soldier give subtle meaning to the film that most viewers would likely miss. Throughout the film Anthony Swofford, though part of a group (2nd Platoon), is largely a lone individual attempting to control his fate rather unsucessfully. Clearly drawn from existential literary works such as "The Stranger" (which makes an early appearance in the film), it becomes symbolic when Swofford confronts the oil-covered horse wandering aimlessly through the desert to its inevitable death. Similarly as well, Operation Desert Storm is controlled by forces far above the soliders. This too is made quite literal (twice!), for example, when the 2nd Platoon begins moving toward Iraqi ground forces, instead to be upstaged by the planes overhead, AND when Swofford's shot is called off in favor of bombing the air field. Going into the movie, this must be kept in mind, as historically this was a war won effectively through air power and reaffirmed through such scenes.
Again, I appreciate your commentary as you consider symbolism that I did not fully grasp, but I hope my perspective has slightly heightened your experience of the film.

Very well-written review, as usual, just like your colleague Ed Gonzales over at Slant. You two guys write with more quality, insight, and integrity than pretty much everyone out there... Even if I have to disagree with you sometimes. (But then again, the great Pauline Kael was almost all-too-often disagreeable.)

Without commenting on the movie or your review, I'd just like to point out that "hoo-ah" is not associated with the Marines, who like to utter "ooh-rah" (which is clearly heard in the movie). The Army (soldiers) and the Air Force (airmen) say "hoo-ah," which is supposed to come from their slogan HUA: "heard, understood, acknowledged." You may think this isn't a big deal, but apparently our servicemen take the distinction very seriously: http://www.montney.com/marine/oorah.htm

This is a MOVIE not a high school project, it's goal is to entertain and maybe envoke feelings and not to debate on political issues!

To Kevin - I have never been in war, but then again, I've never done lots of things that I'm still allowed to have an opinion on. And because Jarhead attempts to present a surrealistic take on the Gulf War, I think I'm entitled to comment on whether said portrayal is "insane" or not.

Georgianna - I agree Mendes is after an existentialist vibe, but I think it's a hollow attempt. Still, I appreciate the comments (and compliment).

To Fei Meng - Thanks for the compliments. It's nice to hear someone likes the stuff I (and Ed) write.

And thanks also for the fascinating link. I had no idea there were contentious issues surrounding hoo-ah and ooh-rah. I have, however, corrected the mistake.

To Steven - I've got nothing. That comment is too ridiculous to warrant a real response.

I spent a year in combat. And that disjointed feeling you get throughout the film and your difficulty relating to the 'insane' reactions of the main character is exactly how you end up feeling after combat. You are a zombie one moment and then an emotional basket case the next. You are never sure of how you feel and you are never sure there is any point to the daily actions of you life. You start out so sure of how you feel and what life is about,but the abyss is all encompassing of that small island of knowledge. That is the power of this film. You can see the island he resides upon. I am there with him and so would you if you had spent 5 minutes in the suck.

My main problem in today's motion picture entertainment is that many people try to copy successes. Someone comes up with an original idea once in a while, and people screw with it in order to make a quick bucks. Example, "Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind", it was a great movie, debatable but I think most people can admit that it was original. Then along came "I Heart Huckabees". My problem with that film was that they tried to force you a view point. They dummied that movie down so much that it became bluntly obvious and irritating for me.
The entertainment today is trying to force views to its audiences via books and mostly movies. We are becoming dummer everyday because we are not let to figure things out by ourselves. We don’t even want to have our own opinions. We are presented either with an option/opinion A or a B and forced to choose one of them. “You are either with us, or against us” G.W.B.
Back to my original point, I think this movie is great and original just the way it is. If it expressed views, it would have become a propaganda film, just as of hundreds of films made within the last 5 years. The movie gives you a "picture", not a subjective but an objective view, and let's it's audience decide for themselves what this experience means to them, not what this experience should mean to them. The line may be thin, but it makes all the difference between politically motivated propaganda film, and actual film made in the sole purpose of "creative" filmmaking.
Will there be other following movies like Jarhead? You can damn well bet on it. Are they going to be any good? Well you've seen the previews before you seen Jarhead right?

"And because Jarhead attempts to present a surrealistic take on the Gulf War, I think I'm entitled to comment on whether said portrayal is "insane" or not."

You said you've never been to war but you are entitled to decide whether it comes close to portraying the insanity of war or not. So what are you basing this opinion? Other war movies? Maybe you should talk to a Gulf War or OIF/OEF Vet before you make said comparison.


By your line of reasoning, I can't have an opinion on ANYTHING that I haven't directly experienced. I don't agree.

"Never comes close to expressing the insanity of war itself." Thats because the movie was based on what happens to the soldiers preparing and waiting for war also what happens to them after.which the director defined perfectly.About it expressing insanity of the war well thats another story.The director didnt seem to be heading in the direction of expressing what happenes to them in the war just what happens before and after.Thanks for your time.-Jason

What I find ironic is that so many people want to know what soldiers go though on a daily basis but deny films that actually give insight on what it is really like. The reality is that most of us spend years training and preparing for this experience, only to spend several minutes in what a normal person would define as 'war'. The rest of the time is spent questioning your buddy's sexuality, worrying about the fidelity of your spouse and waiting for something to happen (oh, and the occasional masturbation, of course). Also true to reality, as a soldier I can attest that our conversations on 'geopolitical issues' are hardly polarized, ranging anywhere from "Bush sucks" to "f**k Al Zarkawi".

While I appreciate your review of the movie and agree that it will never be a classic, I think you are missing an opportunity to see what war is like for many of us. Having been in Iraq for nearly two of the last three years (and still here!!) I can relate to this character's anguish. What drives a lot of us insane is more the anticipation that something is going to happen, rather than something actually happening.

Embrace the suck my friend . . there is enough to go around.

I am a Marine that was in the current Iraq war. What I have learned is that War is more about fighting down time. Most people that go today or have gone in the past can tell you this. I think what Swaford wanted people to witness is what it is really like to be a Marine. The book and the movie portray that trust me when I say that. The other movies and TV show mentioned does not capture the reality of being a Marine in the 21st century. Yes Marines do sit around and worry about girlfriends and they try to make themselves one dimentional. It is like a way we protect ourselves from the real issues at hand. I do think however the movie could have grabbed a couple of more scenes from the book. One that comes to mind is when the Marines are watching the Movies and getting "Motivated" to go to war the book mentions how swoford goes out to get fresh air and cry. It is also unfair to require a movie that takes place from one man's veiw to point out issues that I am sure (like most Marines)did not know why he was really over there or what the current issues were. By the way, YES, Staff Seargents do act very much like the character Jamie Fox plays. I do however think you had some good points and I could get into some points that I saw that the movie was trying to make. Like how warfare has changed. But, keep up the good work and thank you for listening

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