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2006-12-31 - 7:56 a.m.

We went to see Flags of Our Fathers last night. James and his girlfriend, Louise, who is visiting for the New Year, were sitting in the same row. Itís a complicated movie with high ambition which it may not pull off. The famous photo was a chapter of accidents Ė the second flag raised that day Ė and the photographer didnít view the shot through the viewfinder first. Only three of the six soldiers in the shot survive the battle. But the shot has extraordinary power especially in relation to the national circumstances of the USA in 1945 and by implication in 2006. The film even manages to fit in a brief reference to the Tet Offensive shot of the captive Viet Cong being executed as one specific bridging point between then and now.

Through its representative power, the photo sweeps up the chance survivors and uses them as an instrument to help secure broader goals on the home front Ė in essence to revivify public support for the war as expressed by the purchase of war bonds. The film leaves the viewer to assess the legitimacy of this move. This open-endedness is achieved through the variety of social outcomes that befall the three survivors after the war. The story of the war-bond tour is given as much prominence as Iwo Jima within the movie.

The native Indian finds the war-bond ploy hardest to endure, drinks too much and is dropped from the tour. After the war he doesnít propser and dies of drink as a farm labourer. A second soldier fully engages with the tour process, partly because he enjoys celebrity and perhaps because he supports the goals of the enterprise. He marries his girlfriend during the tour. However the denouement is (apparently) that the celebrity is transient with illusory rewards and he works for decades after the war as a humble janitor having been promised jobs in big corporations during the tour.

The third soldier reluctantly sticks with the tour and the film narrative validates his life Ė his son chooses to research his fatherís life after he has died and we are shown exchanges between father and son on the formerís death bed. This soldier has worked his way up and bought a funeral service business in small town USA.

So you can see the film as a parable in terms of outcomes or even as a kind of joke on the Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman pattern. As a parable the film can be read as an endorsement of conservative patriotic normality although implicity the small-town life is sandwiched between the exploitation of minorities and enron-like world of high finance.

But there could be a Heidegerrean subtext Ė built round the successful survivorís engagement with death which is evident even before the battle starts when he cuts his friendís hair and the other buddies comment that his hair-cut makes him look like a corpse.

The undertakerís job is never shown in practice in the film and so there is a tension between the filmís treatment of death on the battlefield and death in the smalltown. The pornography of death, especially Japanese death is fully exploited in the film. The Japanese are defending their Heimat and so when defeat is inevitable they commit suicide with hand grenades. The marines hear the dull explosions and go into the caves to explore and we are shown the mangled bodies of the Japanese suicides.
There is an underworld theme left hanging. It seems that one of the original group of soldiers is captured by the underground Japanese and subject to horrific torture as he shelters in a foxhole which unbeknown to him is really a trap-door to the nether world. A sequel is promised from the Japanese point of view.

At this stage its not clear whether the two films together will be a meditation on Heimat from the US and Japanese points of view on whether the underworld symbolism will emerge as a stronger theme.

Another current link is the Saddam vid and the trapdoor.

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