Friday, January 12, 2007

A Poem and a Film

A Poem and a Film – Not for Pleasure

There are many good war films but the latest offering from Academy Award winning director Clint Eastwood is very good indeed.  I would give it 8 points out of a possible 10.  Like all good films it asks the same old important questions about the necessity of war, questions human motivations and the machinations of the power-thirsty both at government and individual levels.   It is February 1945 and the film recounts graphically the struggle to take the Island of Iwo Jima from the Japanese.  The famous or infamous hill in question is called by the loveliest of names – Mount Suribachi.  This is the hill which not alone was the site of much slaughter, but was also the location where five Marines and a Navy Corpsman raised the American flag – Old Glory.  There was a famous picture taken of this latter event, and it is this iconic image and all its surrounding hype and emotive resonances that the film explores.

The famous picture was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal actually depicts the second flag raising on Iwo Jima.  Go to the film and get the whole story behind this iconic image of a photograph.  The photography/cinematography in the film which fades from Technicolor to sepia to black and white at various stages is superb and mesmerising.  Eastwood achieved a miracle in this alone.

The poem I want to put with this is one by the American WW II war poet Randall Jarrell:


Did they send me away from my cat and my wife
To a doctor who poked me and counted my teeth,
To a line on a plain, to a stove in a tent?
Did I nod in the flies of the schools?
And the fighters rolled into the tracer like rabbits,
The blood froze over my splints like a scab --
Did I snore, all still and grey in the turret,
Till the palms rose out of the sea with my death?
And the world ends here, in the sand of a grave,
All my wars over? How easy it was to die!
Has my wife a pension of so many mice?
Did the medals go home to my cat?

This is not one of Jarrell’s best war poems, but the point here is very clear, and I chose it for its clarity, pointed-ness and didacticism.   As regards the futility of war sometimes we need to be lectured to, no?

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