Home > Film, Reviews > Film Review: Jarhead

Film Review: Jarhead

Jarhead (2005; Directed by Sam Mendes)

Beautifully shot by master cinematographer Roger Deakins and perfectly well-acted by its young male cast, Sam Mendes’ Jarhead is still curiously inert. That is, of course, its point: that war can be far more boring than breathless media coverage and rah-rah Hollywood epics make it seem. Still, one might wish that the resulting exemplification of that state of boredom was, well, less boring.

And you thought your Chevy Tahoe was wasteful!

Mendes’ film, adapting the memoir of the same name by Gulf War Marine veteran Anthony Swofford, offers a unique thesis on why war sucks: it sucks because most of the time, those who fight it don’t get to shoot or be shot at. War is hell not due to an excess of death and destruction, but due to a lack thereof. This thesis is enfolded by a movie that is often darkly comic, occasionally poignant, and sharply literate about the masculine self-constructions inherent to the U.S. Marine Corps.

It also casts a keen eye back to the collective armed forces memory of Vietnam and the effect that the country’s failed war had on the American militaristic psyche. At one point, Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) hears a Doors tune blasting over the desert and bemoans the fact that it’s a “Vietnam” song and that Gulf War soldiers don’t have their own anthems. Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” fits the bill well enough when the war ends in the film, although its applicability to a war that was largely about reasserting American power in the Middle East is ambiguous at best.

Doubts aside, however, Swoff and the rest of his unit are still insanely juiced by the command-sanctioned screenings of Vietnam War films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter, even though those films hardly present that previous war as a glorious endeavor indicative of American masculine prowess. Indeed, the former’s iconic “Flight of the Valkyries” helicopter attack feels like it’s cherry-picked to be shown to the Marines in isolation from the rest of the film, not as an anticipation of the action they are likely to face but as a substitute to the action they are likely to miss out on.

So, as slight as Jarhead is as a document of the atrocities of war (the scenes that recognize this are largely perfunctory), it’s much sharper as a psychological chronicle of the American militaristic mindset and its self-justifying feedback loop of chauvinistic hubris. And, yes, it’s a bit slow at times, but then so is life, and so is war. Welcome to the Suck.

Categories: Film, Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: