Rock For Brains

Lately, for reasons not entirely clear to me, I've been obsessing over The Rock. You know, that terrible action flick with Cage and Connery and America's most over-hyped island. The editing is jittery; the music execrable; the acting poor to weak. Worst of all is the screenplay, and I'm not even talking about the bad dialogue. No, I'm thinking of the downright offensive self-justifications some of the "heroes" are allowed to get away with.

The scene that has bothered me since I first saw the movie, so many years ago, is the one that kills off all the good guys save only the two above-the-line A-list stars, who, of course, must live to save the day. A supposedly elite team of S.E.A.L.s has managed to get itself surrounded by bad guys with big guns in a room with almost no cover. They are asked to surrender, but their commander refuses, shouting back that "[he] cannot give that order." The predictable firefight predictably ensues, with the predictable outcome: the shootout is a shutout.

In the Simpson-Bruckheimer parallel universe, this is supposed to go down as an act of courageous sacrifice, stalwart military men standing true until the very end. Me, I think the situation calls for a posthumous court-martial. Commanders are responsible for the safety of their soldiers, including the obligation not to put them in harm's way if no good can come of it. The only military goal served by not ordering a surrender in this particular situation was forcing the enemy to use up some of their ammunition.

I would like to think that the real Navy doesn't teach its commanders to throw away lives on obscure points of honor. To quote no less a battle-crazed madman than George S. Patton:

Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

But, of course, The Rock isn't a movie about the real Navy. It's a movie about a boyish fantasy world in which testosterone reigns supreme, cooler heads never prevail, and no real man ever passes up a chance at a pissing contest. In every Bruckheimer movie supposedly about the great and crushing responsibilities borne by America's armed forces -- from Top Gun to Crimson Tide -- we find self-righteous alleged heroes willing to subordinate this allegedly sacred mission to their own need to be the top dog on the scrap heap.

The military plays along with these war games; they rent the fancy toys and fact-check the authentic-sounding military lingo. Good for business, or so they say; you should see what it does for recruiting. But the true price of these circuses is a particularly galling form of cultural amnesia: a public that thinks military life ought to be like this: all macho, all the time. On which belief, I think, it's not unreasonable to pin some of this country's current war mania.

We've been force-fed images of men in uniform acting as jousting bull moose would, to the point at which images contrary to this overall picture simply fail to register. Saving Private Ryan was a profoundly anti-war movie, but four short years later, who remembers this inconvenient detail about the movie that set the modern stanard for intensity of on-screen carnage?