Even though this article is partly a review of the new non-fiction film Jarhead, it is also an analysis of war films in general. Douthat begins his piece by mentioning that before going off to battle, Anthony Swoffard and the other protagonists of Jarhead relished in watching Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. He uses this scene as a springboard to his main idea that there is no such thing as an anti-war film.
Douthat’s argument is certainly convincing. He claims that for all the anti-war messages woven into movies like Apocalypse Now, battles are still depicted as exhilarating and attractive. Even though Coppola’s film depicts the horrors of war with scenes of young Vietnamese dying, combat is still glorified in scenes such as the opening helicopter entrance. In Jarhead, the marines, singular in their vision, cheer and laugh as the choppers cut through the sky, raining fire on the wilderness below and strafing to avoid life-threatening attacks.
No matter how much critical rhetoric is added to a film, casual movie-goers and those unable or unwilling to consider the movie more deeply simply enjoy the unbridled excitement that carnage tends to generate.Jarhead, like many recent war films, fails to achieve the balance between political commentary and high-throttle action that Apocalypse Now did. Douthat equates Jarhead to pornography, a fun, cheap thrill without any real substance. While Apocalypse Now might not be a strident anti-war film, its depth is unquestionable. Coppola manages to portray war as “terrifyingly beautiful,” capturing both the appealing and the disgusting. Jarhead, on the other hand, takes the easy, unsatisfying route, relying on picturesque scenery rather than delving into the complexities of war.