As A Source


Primary Source:
As a primary source for the 90s, Saving Private Ryan works very well. The movie was made and released at a time when the World War II was being discussed and remembered after the 50th anniversary of D-Day a few years earlier reminded people that not many WWII vets were still alive, or would be for very much longer. Below is a picture of the beach on the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day only four years before the film was released.

Pebbles are arranged to commemorate the invasion on its 50th anniversary, 1994.

In terms of being a source towards its director and actors, the film does a great job of representing Steven Spielberg’s work and dedication to his craft. This film came out just one year after Spielberg released the film Amistad in 1997, another intense and emotional historical film which had come about because of his work on Schindlers List in 1993, both had a stark difference from his previous works in more fantasy based films and in both he was asked to be careful with the subject matter, but with both he did what he thought was right for the history. Just like the previous two films, Spielberg threw himself into working on this film, hiring historians and even veterans to consult on his portrayals.[1] He even went as far as putting all the actors through boot camps to teach them to be soldiers, including putting Matt Damon through camp separate from the rest of the cast so that they would not form a bond, allowing the resentment that the unit would have felt towards Private Ryan to come more naturally.[2] The movie shows off Spielberg’s determination to stay true to history, especially in the opening scenes on the beach, and even with the artistic licenses that are taken as the movie continues. Ultimately, putting the artistic decisions of Spielberg with the accuracies is what identifies this as one of his films and what earned him the awards.

Secondary Source:
As a secondary source this movie works as a result of Spielberg’s intense attention to small details. He worked hard to give the movie the right points of accuracy to provide the emotion that should be invoked by an emotional war movie. The movie shows the rough intensity and brutality of war, the graphic nature of the battle scenes and the emotions that the actors portray as soldiers, are very accurate and allow the viewers to feel what the soldiers would have been feeling. The scenes often discussed would be the opening scene of the storming of Omaha beach in Normandy on D-Day, and the final battle scene after the unit has found Private Ryan and agreed to help him and his brothers in arms hold down their position before taking him back to go home. Both of these scenes are accurate both in their brutality and in their emotion, particularly the fear and chaos that the men are obviously feeling as they put everything into just trying to stay alive. The GIF below comes from the final battle scene, Private Ryan is overwhelmed by the chaos and just starts screaming and rocking, the effects of war and another accurate portrayal of what soldiers went through in war, especially younger men who had never seen battle.

Spielberg’s attention to detail and the impeccable acting done by the cast make the movie a good secondary source when trying to get a visual for the subject of D-Day or when talking about the purpose of the Sole Survivor policy as a subject, and especially when talking about the emotions of soldiers. However, the movie would not work as a secondary source if the viewer were trying to learn about the Niland brothers’ story, or to learn about the generalities of the war, such as how units would travel. There would be too much extra research required to correct the things that were made with the purpose of entertainment or for the story, to consider it an accurate secondary source for anything but the experience of war and the storming of Omaha beach.

[1]Roger Ebert. “Tom Hanks Recalls ‘Private Ryan’ Shoot” Roger Interview from July 23, 1998.
[2] Philip Sledge. “Saving Private Ryan: 10 behind the scenes facts you might not know about the WWII movie” Cinema Blend. July 2, 2020.
Photo: Michael Waters, “These Photos Capture the Poignancy of Past D-Day Commemorations” Smithsonian Magazine. June 5, 2019.

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