Virtual War

Why we fight: Tom Hanks and Matt Damon in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan
Why we fight: Tom Hanks and Matt Damon in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan

In other words: The mission is a man and the man is a doll. Given this trajectory, it's no stretch to read Saving Private Ryan as Spielberg's justification--conscious or otherwise--for preferring heroic star vehicles over raw "realism." In the war at home, sometimes the troops need to be distracted, and so the director may well have cleared his conscience for the next frivolous adventure (Indy 4, perhaps). Or has he? Mirroring Schindler's List, Ryan ends with a man's desperate plea for reassurance of his moral virtue. ("Tell me I'm a good man," this guy implores his wife.) Just as the film grapples with the dilemma of whether risking eight men to save one is the right thing, Spielberg is crunching numbers as well. Is it good to sacrifice blockbuster box-office in favor of modest returns on a three-hour gross-out? Only time will tell. His humanitarian effort aside, Spielberg isn't likely to earn a medal of honor for Saving Private Ryan--so he'll probably have to settle for another Oscar.

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