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8/24: Here we go again?

WAF Officer candidates

Photo credit: Beverly & Pack WAF Officer candidates via photopin (license)

April’s selection (yeah, I know, it’s the end of June already!), the eighth movie in my “Laying a Foundation for a Life in 24 Films” series, was G.I. Jane (1997). Almost from this millennium…

My sense is that my son has not been terribly impressed with my movie selections to date — though he did really like The Shawshank Redemption and, to a lesser degree, Empire of the Sun. Or maybe it’s just that I’m too predictable, and the messages I’m trying to impart are just a little too simplistic, especially given their blatant Hollywood guise. Or maybe I don’t have as many “life lessons” to impart as I thought since, apparently, eight movies into this project I already seem to be repeating myself with alarming regularity.

My son has been struggling with his math grade somewhat of late, which is not inconsequential given that he needs this mark to get into the degree program he wants to pursue in university. Since G.I. Jane was already on my movie list for this project anyway, I figured now would be the perfect time to share it with him since its if-you-really-want-something-you-sometimes-have-to-work-REALLY-hard-to-get-it theme should be immediately transferable given his current challenges.

He saw me coming from waaaay off, however. As I pressed the start button on the AppleTV controller, he caught sight of the title and a fleeting glimpse of the story summary from the iTunes movie screen and immediately told me to pause it. He turned to me and only barely managed not to roll his eyes. “Let me guess,” he said, his voice already forming the “air quotes” he didn’t even need to trouble his fingers to generate. “No matter who you are — race, gender, religion, whatever — and people put you down for it, and try to hold you back, you can still do great things if you put your mind to it and work really hard.” Then after a beat. “Right?”

“Yeah,” I had to admit. It was that simple. I gave him the option of not watching if he wasn’t interested, but apparently I won the pity vote and we watched it together anyway.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film all the way through and, to be honest, it was actually a little better than I remembered it. Anne Bancroft, as the pragmatic, horse-trading senator was damn near pitch perfect; Viggo Mortensen was convincingly inscrutable — behind the mirrored sunglasses — as the grizzled senior drill instructor (is he for her or agin her? we’re constantly left asking ourselves); and Demi Moore herself was clearly at her hard-body best at this point in her career.

Certainly the writing, and the nuances it seemed to impart, was better than I remembered it:

On why women, supposedly the “weaker sex,” shouldn’t be banned from combat units: “How strong do you need to be to pull a trigger?”

On ringing the bell to be “Dropped on Request” from the brutally intensive SEAL training course: “Go ahead, be ashamed for the rest of your fucking lives!”

On why the recruits often tell the medical officer they wanted to join the program in the first place: “Cuz I get to blow shit up!”

On being a female guinea pig in a fundamentally male program like the SEALs: “Big symbols make big targets.”

For all its Hollywood pedigree, however, I still think G.I. Jane is a film that deals fairly compellingly with the problems and complexities of seeking to overcome entrenched prejudices in an attempt to generate some sort of level playing field for meritocracy to flourish. And in doing so the film is honest enough, likewise, to seek to mine the “meta” complexities of its own self-reflexive awareness of this particular brand of “affirmative action.” When, for example, Demi Moore complains to the CO that she’s effectively being undermined by not being treated as an equal to the men in the unit (i.e. she’s not expected to compete as rigorously as they must), he points out the irony that if she were, in fact, treated the same as her male peers, she certainly wouldn’t be in the position to belittle the CO about it as she is currently doing!

The message becomes even more explicit when Moore and her boat crew are dumped in the sea far from shore and expected to find their own way back to camp. Moore’s character gets blamed for this dumping because she missed the Zodiak extraction pick-up they were practising, but an African American squad mate quickly comes to her defence with his own tale of how, as recently as the second world war, the only job his grandfather was allowed to pursue onboard an aircraft carrier was being a cook. He had wanted to be a navy pilot but was advised that blacks simply didn’t have adequate night vision to become pilots. Which we know, of course, is unfounded nonsense. So why is it again, we are left asking ourselves, that women shouldn’t be allowed in combat units?

And what did my son think when it was over? I got the usual noncommittal, “It was OK.” Then a bit of a clarification: “C’mon, Dad, it’s just a standard military movie. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It was really just Hacksaw Ridge with a woman, rather than a conscientious objector, playing the underdog.”

And, at least in the most reductionist sense, I suppose he’s right. Which leads me to conclude a couple of other things.

  1. It suddenly appears fairly obvious to me that I seem to be convinced that life is something of a hurdle that needs to be continuously overcome. And, apparently, I’ve always sought to overcome it using a handful of fairy basic “go-to” military metaphors.
  2. I may have to seriously re-think my selections for the remaining 16 months of this exercise! It might be time for a comedy…


  1. rapidwest says:

    I must say I am enjoying the father-son dialogue more than the movie!! It is interesting to note his point about war movies. The generation that grew up in 60’s and early 70’s still had the memories of WW II and other ground battles handed to them, hence the need to reference them for growth purposes. I, myself, refer to poetry of Metallica and Pink Floyd when addressing growth matters, however, I find that it is much less relevant to my son.

    I am looking forward to your next selection as an indicator of how you have handled the change in thinking among generation. I find it helps to take real life examples from the books that he reads or the show that he watches and then discuss them when we both are doing an activity that we enjoy, like working on a car or strolling on a beach with sand gravitating its way back to the earth from our feet.

    • Philster999 says:

      Thanks for dropping by! I too am a huge Floyd fan — I knew there was a reason we got along so well!

      And you’re right, this exercise has certainly been an eye opener. The movies I’ve been sharing with him were nothing short of revelatory to me when, as young man myself, I was spending a great deal of time trying to figure out who the heck I was and what were the things I valued. But they don’t seem to speak to him in the same way. ‘Cuz, well, let’s just admit it — apparently he’s not simply a younger version of yours truly! Which comes as a bit of an epiphany (at least for me), and may very well mean that I don’t quite know exactly what makes him tick after all… Go figure!

  2. tomcmarshall says:

    This is one film I have not seen, and will make an effort to see it. Today it was Wonder Woman in the theatre. Nice to see a strong female lead, but what’s with fighting in heels (wedges)?

    C’mon, Dad, it’s all the same stuff. Considering the limited number of plots, yes. But if it was all that easy, then why do we continually ignore those who have gone before us, and choose to do it ourselves? And then there is the state of the military during the filming of some of these films. Heartbreak Ridge reflects a time when people did not think too highly of the military. And if I may suggest a military film which will break all the molds, and a period when joining the Army was considered a joke, I’d recommend Stripes.

    Is it accurate? No. Is it worthy of the list? Probably not.

    But who wants serious all the time. I’d be more than happy to take the Urban Assault Vehicle for a little spin in the mountains with a couple good looking girls. “That’s a fact jack!”

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