The Character of Protagonist in "Saving Private Ryan"
by Jack L. Walker, Jr.
The movie "Saving Private Ryan" is like a large painting with many carefully brushed hues. Where does one begin in analyzing it? Perhaps if I can touch on how it addresses an issue of current concern in society, it will prove useful. My focus is Captain John Miller, the chief protagonist, and his character's connection to today's ongoing discussion of moral character and leadership.
Although we see Capt. Miller more than anyone else in the film, he may be the most difficult character to analyze. He does not wear his passions and opinions on his sleeves as his fellow soldiers do. In fact, he intentionally reveals little about himself. Like many other leading men, we need to carefully observe his interaction with several of other principal characters to discover Capt. Miller's worthwhile character traits.
The opening battle scene provides us with a good opportunity to make to some initial observations about Capt. Miller. If men, like metal, are tested by fire, then Capt. Miller will surely reveal his base alloy in the Omaha Beach invasion.
With bullets pouring like rain on the invading forces, the overwhelming temptation for many Allied soldiers on D–Day was to simply hide behind the beach's barricades.(It has been reported that some of the soldiers were so paralyzed by fear that they hunkered down behind those barricades long enough to drown once the tide came in) Capt. Miller resists the temptation to stay shielded. He leads his men across the beach and up to the cliffs so that they will be in a better position to use their weapons. Their unit is one of those that contributes to the success of the Allies in this decisive battle. Specifically, it is field commanders like Capt. Miller that enable sound tactics to compensate for blown strategy. This scene allows us to see Capt. Miller clearly demonstrate his ability to persevere and fulfill a mission in the midst of deadly chaos.
Soon after the battle, we are told that Capt. Miller was specifically chosen to play the role in the battle that he did. Now he is given another mission. This mission comes straight from Gen. Marshall. Capt. Miller is to rescue Private James Ryan from behind enemy lines and bring him to safety. His three brothers have died in combat, one on the Omaha Beach. Gen. Marshall believes that no mother should have to lose all of her sons in war–he wants Private Ryan sent home. Capt. Miller accepts the mission, finds Corporal Upham (translator) and begins his mission with his squad.
Most of the people on the mission with Capt. Miller are those that we saw with him in the opening battle scene. As they walk through the lush French countryside, the men begin to question the purpose of the mission. They wonder if it is prudent to risk several lives to find one man. Where is the equity? The underlying question comes down to this: what is a human life worth? Perhaps all heroes in the classical mode must face this question at some point. And yet there is another theme layered in this scene. Corporal Upham (the smart but awkward coward) is trying to openly make a brotherly bond with the other men. This overt attempt to forge(force?) relationships is met with laughter.
Capt. Miller does not discourage the questions that surround the mission. But he cannot join in the complaining. He allows the spirited young men to voice their concerns. Perhaps he realizes the futility of his position. How can one convince another to go to risk for another person that he does not even know? He uses humor and directed discussion between his men to further the sense of purpose about their mission. Instead of authoritative lectures about duty or simple orders to "shut up," Miller leads his men in a mature fashion. They respond appropriately. In this way he is able to encourage closeness between the men that is not so contrived as the intellectual attempts at...