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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Saving Grace and Private Ryan 

For starters, Ben Affleck is not in Saving Private Ryan. I probably should have known this, because the actor that played Private Reiben was actually quite inspiring. Anyway, my defense is that most of the film seems grainy and jumpy, making it difficult to focus. Plus, I saw it once in the theater when it came out back in 1998 and then I watched the end of it last night, picking up right before the point where Captain Miller's squad attacks the machine gun nest, loses Medic Wade to enemy fire, and releases a German prisoner before continuing on their mission to find Private Ryan (whose three older brothers had been killed in combat) and return him to the states. When they eventually track him down, he refuses to leave his post, and the squad sticks around to fight the fictional battle of Ramelle. After being gunned down by the same German whom he released earlier, Miller's dying words to Ryan are, "Earn this." The film closes with an older Ryan visiting his captain's grave at the Normandy Cemetery looking for some affirmation from his wife that he had been a good person and had lived up to the sacrifice made for him by Miller and his men.

What struck me most about this film (after I got over the extremely graphic opening scene depicting the June 6, 1944 assault on Omaha Beach) was the incredible sense of dissatisfaction and lostness in trying to pay back grace. It seems to me that the characters had no understanding of that idea. What Private Ryan was given he did not deserve. In fact, he even alludes to that fact in his refusal to abandon his unit. Captain Miller gave an impossible order, since there is no way to earn what he had already been granted. The viewer is left with the impression that Ryan lives the rest of his life in a vain attempt to somehow pay back the free gift of his "salvation," when in reality, it appears he is totally lost.

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I wholly disagree with your analysis on this.

The idea of phrase "earn this" at the end of the film is a plea by Captain Miller to Private Ryan to live life in a way that acknowledges the price paid for it, that he should live as someone who realizes his life was bought by the deaths of others and recognize that sacrifice when making decisions. Obviously he cannot undo what is done and “un-earn” it, nor can he, in a literal sense, retroactively compensate for the sacrifice others made for him through good deeds. That however was not the point of the comment, for I do not know of anyone who would honestly say you could “earn” something priceless that’s already been given to you. So, if we’re talking literal definition, perhaps “earn” was not the best verb to use, perhaps “Appreciate” or “acknowledge” would have been better.

But to speak of Ryan’s attempt to follow the order as though he constantly pursued something he could never achieve and lived on a meaningless, “lost” quest misses the point entirely and contradicts Biblical mandate. Paul calls Christians to do the same thing thoughout the Bible. Granted, we can never earn salvation, BUT we are called to live as someone saved, someone who’s life was bought at a price to rescue them from hell. Paul tells us to live in our salvation, and I believe that was the intent of Capt. Miller’s comments to Private Ryan, to remember the grace we were given and live better lives because of it.

There is nothing wrong with recognizing the grace one has been given and attempting to live a valiant and respectable life as a reaction to it; in fact, it is Biblical. Your anti-Hollywood bias has blinded you to the attempted goodness of this film, and I think you should look for intent and meaning over literal analysis of verb usage and syntax in the future.


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