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Saturday, July 09, 2011

How to remain a pacifist


- Jude Law as a Russian sniper

I watched a movie from the library tonight - Enemy at the Gates. The 2001 war film was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, and starred Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, and Ed Harris. From Wikipedia ...

The film's title is taken from William Craig's 1973 nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, which describes the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad from 1942–1943. It is based on a duel mentioned in the book that developed between the legendary Soviet sniper Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev and his German counterpart, Major Erwin König, as they stalk each other during the battle.

You might wonder why a peace-nik like me watches so many war movies. Maybe I'm testing myself to see if I want to remain a pacifist. This film was a grim and troubling reminder of both why people fight and of how dehumanizing war is. The movie begins by introducing Vasily (Jude Law) as a young Russian shepherd who gets sent to a horrifically besieged Stalingrad that's burning like Gehenna, where many of his comrades are killed by German bombers before leaving their transport, and where many more are shot by their own troops for retreating in the face of brutal German fire -- all in the first ten minutes. It was a Saving Private Ryan beginning, and though I've read that it's unlikely this kind of thing actually occurred at the Battle of Stalingrad, Wikipedia states: The Battle of Stalingrad ... was amongst the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare with the higher estimates of combined casualties amounting to nearly two million deaths.

Early on, Vasily saves the life of political officer Danilov (Joseph Fiennes) with his superior sharpshooting ability, he and Danilov become friends, and Danilov, exhorted on by Khrushchev (Bob Hoskins), makes Vasily a public hero for morale purposes. Vasily, under a crushing amount of pressure, wreaks such havoc on the Germans (the real Vasily was said to have killed 225 of the enemy), that they sent for their own super-sniper, Erwin König (Ed Harris), to kill him. The movie is about the ongoing cat and mouse stalking between the two snipers, with a love triangle as well between Vasily, Danilov, and Tania Chernova (Rachel Weisz), a Jewish militia member whose parents have been killed by the Nazis.

Roger Ebert gave the film (rated R) 3 out of 4 stars in his review, and here's a trailer ....

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