5 Common War Movie Themes

Sunday, January 23 by Mason Kaho

These 5 common war movie themes include a range of sentiments from heroism to brutality. Few things stir philosophers, poets, artists and average people like war, which is considered both horrific and a necessary evil. Films about war can deeply explore a wide range of human issues that surface during such intense and difficult situations as battle conjures.

  1. Heroism. Of course, one of the common war movie themes is acts of heroism. It is hard to imagine the feeling of having to perform while under enemy fire knowing that your life may end at any moment. When duty calls, however, some are able to step up to the challenge and lay everything on the line. Prominent heroic acts in war movies are too numerous to mention, but audiences thinks of Forrest Gump (in the movie from the same name) racing back into the jungle and carrying out another man before a napalm strike.
  2. Cowardice. Cowardice may be too strong a word since it is hard to know what the average person would do when in war, but it is a common war movie theme to show men turning tail when the going gets tough. Cowards are often either portrayed as a member of the opposing force or showing weakness and “cracking.” A notable example is from “Saving Private Ryan” when Upham, hearing his fellow soldier losing a fight in an empty building, can’t bring himself to enter the situation and shoot the attacker.
  3. The absurdity of war. Whatever you thinks about politics or international relations, there is something absurd about two human beings who have no particular issues trying to kill each other, ofte fighting for a gain that will benefit neither of them. Many movies have looked at this common war movie theme. In “Cold Mountain,” Inman desserts his army in the Civil War and sees the only rightful place for him at home on his farm. “Dr. Strangelove” explores the absurdity of nuclear buildup with the movie ending with the United States and Russia bombing the world into oblivion.  
  4. The brutality of war. War is brutal and vicious, a common war movie theme. In “The Patriot,” Mel Gibson’s character seeks revenge for the death of one of his children. He goes on a murderous rampage, brutally attacking British forces while they in turn increase the violence of their methods. In “Platoon,” Michael J. Fox’s character refuses to take part in the gang rape of an innocent Vietnamese girl by his squadron, which becomes a central point in the movie.  
  5. The underdog. The role of the underdog is a common war movie theme, just as it is in many dramas. In “Saving Private Ryan,” for example, the particular beaches depicted in the movie were some of the best defensives in real life, making the landing seem against all odds, even though in general the invasion was swift and successful. Throughout the movie the men face and overcome dangerous obstacles, seemingly outmanned and outgunned.
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