How should the military be represented in media?

By Janie Walenda

It is hard to find a more successful movie from last year than “Top Gun: Maverick.” Rave reviews, a $1 billion box office and six Oscar nominations cemented this film as one of the best modern blockbusters.

Another film from last year with notable success is “All Quiet on the Western Front,” an adaptation of the iconic book by Erich Maria Remarque. The film is among the most awarded foreign language films in history, with four Oscar wins in major technical categories such as Best Cinematography and Best Original Score.

The success of these two films not only displays the enduring popularity of military films but also illustrates the stark differences in this genre of film.

Similar to “All Quiet on the Western Front,” most military films focus on historical conflicts. For example, “Hacksaw Ridge” is directly based on a real person’s story, albeit dramatized. More often, as in “Saving Private Ryan,” the films are inspired by true war stories with fictional characters.

As far as an accurate representation of what the military is like now, Colonel Gary Walenda referenced “American Sniper” as a strong picture of the military environment and 21st-century conflicts.

“While the premise is dramatized, the environment, the trappings, how it felt, I almost felt like I was back in Iraq again,” he said.

The question is: will modern military movies based on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq follow the pattern of previous, dramatic war films, or will the success of “Top Gun: Maverick” influence future films?

After all, realism wasn’t exactly what “Top Gun: Maverick” aimed for. While the filmmakers had an impressive dedication to creating realistic flying scenes, the film is far from an accurate depiction of the military or combat.

“’Top Gun: Maverick’ is an adventure movie that has the military as a backdrop,” Walenda said, noting that a military movie doesn’t need to be realistic for him to enjoy it. “If you watched a completely realistic movie, it would probably be boring, just like in any profession.”

Madison Crago, an Army military kid, believes that movies like “Top Gun: Maverick” are in danger of romanticizing war. 

“When you portray the military as just jets and brotherhood, you take away the reality of war,” she said.

Both Walenda and Crago agree that there should be a stronger emphasis on military stories away from combat.

“It’s always good to reinforce the consequences of coming back from war, to see the mental and emotional consequences and consequences for the families,” said Crago

Families in military movies are infrequently seen, besides tearful departures, arrivals or tragic news. But in real life, between those moments are the relentless and tiring adjustment to change, within the family, in friends as well as the community.

Additionally, Walenda wants to see more depictions of the U.S. military’s overseas partnerships.

“I’m prejudiced because I’m Army Special Forces, but I think everywhere we’ve gone recently, with very few exceptions, involves working through a partner,” he said. “I don’t think that’s been represented well, the complexities and powers of working not unilaterally as the U.S., but with a partner.”

Crago said she wants to see more about the experience of those who have to witness war. 

“We like to think of ourselves as the heroes and think of the others as the bad guys, but what about the people stuck in the middle?” she said.

Regardless of the type of military movies made in the future, undoubtedly this genre of film will continue to flourish. These stories provide important context for the world we live in and powerfully display the best and worst of humanity.

As Crago said, “The platform of war displays all human emotions.”

Janie Walenda is a sophomore Global Business major and the A&E editor for Cedars. She is passionate about musicals, animation and cold brew.

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