Friday, August 10, 2007

'Rescue Dawn"-- or Having a Laosy Time

Slipping in under the radar, and appearing in only limited release is a very fine rescue/survivor movie starring Christian Bale, entitled 'Rescue Dawn'. It retells the true story of a Navy pilot named Dieter Dengler (born in Germany, grew up in the U.S.), who found himself flying a classified mission over Laos and was shot down in 1965. There are of course many fine Vietnam war era movies (the Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, the Killing Fields, Good Morning Vietnam, Full Metal Jacket), but only this movie sticks to the story of a singular individual who managed to survive concentration camp in Laos, escape, and finally be rescued by one of our helicopters.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 13 minutes, and eschewing our normal penchant for violence and refusing to sate our blood lust, this is not your typical war movie. It could nicely be contrasted with Letters from Iwo Jima in some respects. Rather this is a story of human perseverance and courage without assistance from violence (with one brief exception, which was a mistake). It is also something of a buddy movie because Christian Bale has a side kick Steve Zahn, and director Herzog knows exactly how to maximize their potential. We learn in due course that this movie is actually far more about the human survival instinct than about heroism in its normal sense. The movie does not end with Dengler saving his buddy, but rather with the survival of Dieter -- as the last man standing.

The politics of this movie are subtle-- the situation involves an undeclared war, and an illegal incursion into yet another country (Laos) to cut off weapons and supplies to the Vietnamese 'enemy'. Does this sound familiar, considering what some are now suggesting about what we should do in regard to Iran? Perhaps it is not too late to learn something from the mistakes in our past. But Herzog thankfully concentrates on the human story, not on the war, to good effect. We get a strong sense of what it would be like to be trapped in a concentration camp in a jungle, what it would be like to try and escape through a jungle during monsoon season, and just what people are prepared to eat when they are starving (I will spare you the details).

This is certainly a moving story, full of pathos, and yes humor, and without resorting to any special effects or unnecessary violence to juice up the tension. The tension is severe enough without that, after all. This is actually a war movie that I think the family can and should watch, except perhaps for small children. It is a powerful and poignant way to expose one's self to the dangers, and ethical compromises of war, without losing heart that something good may come of it. Survival in this tale comes in the end from resourcefulness. Our heroes end up jettisoning their guns, and relying on their wits. There is much to ponder here.

If you go, be sure to watch the beginning of the credits to find out what happened to Dengler after he returned to the U.S.


crystal said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I hope to. I posted something a while ago about Herzog's other movie Little Dieter Needs to Fly

preacherman said...

I too hope to see the move. Sound like it is going be a great one.

Paul M. Pace said...

I fully appreciate war movies, especially Vietnam movies, with Platoon being my favorite.
This movie started out good, but then plummeted into the story of one man's survival to overcome those "evil" Viet-Cong. (If I have the term right?) I know that was the point, but I didn't think it served a point.
The story then climaxes with yet another disposable person,(Steve Zahn) not as important of course as the main character, then rescue, then cheering aboard the naval ship, "Go, U.S. of A.!" Never mind the psychological ramifications of war and torture, nor any critique at all about the fact that there is nothing in the jungle that posed a threat to the U.S.
What did you think of the end of the movie?