One of the most disturbing and powerful films I have seen over the
last couple of years is Steven Spielberg’s movie, Saving Private
Ryan. The movie tells the story of an Army captain named John
Miller who having survived the carnage of the D-Day invasion at
Normandy Beach, portrayed in 28 minutes of intense, graphic and
gory detail, is ordered to find a solitary private among thousands of
displaced soldiers. He must return Private James F. Ryan home to
his mother, whose other three sons have just been killed in action.
However, due to some confusion in the invasion, it is not certain
where he is to be found; Private Ryan is a “needle in a stack of
needles”. The soldiers reluctantly set out on their daunting
mission. Almost immediately, they begin questioning the worth of
risking eight men’s lives in order to save one.
Captain Miller rationalises that each life lost in combat is supposed
to save 10 lives. Within that paradigm, how can their current
mission make any sense? The soldiers begin to detest their
mission to save Private Ryan, even hoping to find his name on one
of the dog tags taken from some dead soldiers.
Captain Miller and the small group of men assigned to him
successfully locate Ryan, but then are forced to defend a strategic
bridge against enemy tanks and troops. Captain Miller is fatally
wounded. In his dying moments, he reaches out to Private Ryan,
and with great emotion says, “Earn this! Earn this!”
Many years later as an old man, James Ryan stands in a military
cemetery tearfully looking at the small white cross that stands
where the man who saved his life is buried. He wonders aloud if he
has indeed earned the great gift he received.
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