The movie Gettysburg was released in 1993. It features the battle of Gettysburg from the civil war and explores the decisions and dilemmas of two main leaders from both the Union and Confederate armies. In style, the movie is realistic. There are period costumes to reflect accurately the type of clothes and look of soldiers in that day. And we also see detailed buildings, weapons, and accessories used by the troops. Furthermore, the lingo and dialect reflects the northern and southern populations respectively.
In terms of focus, the movie takes the perspective of the leaders of both armies. On the one hand, we see General Robert E. Lee from the south, struggling with his disagreement with his commander. He must decide what is best, and does not think that the strategy of his superior will most effectively accomplish the mission. On the other side, the Union officer Chamberlain, a professor from Maine, devises a cleaver plan to defeat the south. Both leaders undergo a challenge and hold similar values regarding humans and authority.
These characters reveal the moral themes of the story. Their strategies account for the lives of their men. Robert E. Lee does not want to lose more troops than necessary, and while he realizes that such sacrifice is inevitable in war, his commanding officer’s plan does not adequately value the lives of the troops. Thus we see his value for human life as the primary moral struggle. On the other hand, we see his respect and obligations to his superior fighting against such values.
The movie is quite long, as it originally came out as a television mini series. Thus, cinematically, it impresses viewers with its lengthy scenes that continue to hold attention. For example, Pickett’s Charge takes up almost as much time as the first two days in the story. Yet, I sat gripped and attentive for the entire time. The canons, the violence, and the personal struggles all contributed to the magnetic experience. Most importantly, however, the musical score carries the viewer through an emotional experience. With a classical style and vocal-mountainous flavor, the music fits each scene. The liet-motif recurs throughout as well, cohering the mood of the film.
How does Gettysburg portray war and violence? As a realist piece, it does not shy from accurate displays of blood and battle. The men cry, explode, and stab one another to death. We see canons throw merciless lead through the air and generals command their own troops into dire situations. Thus, in short, Gettysburg is real, and for this should be appreciated. However, it does not display such battle as glorious. The dirt, sorrow, and pain shown in the lives of the men and on the faces of the generals do not affirm war, rather, they affirm the sorrows of war.
The directors foster this sorrow through the music and through discussions among the troops. They talk about their families, how they miss their wives and children, and then some of them die. We must not think that the director portrays this positively. Rather, the loss and pain of the troops communicates the tragedies of war. The realistic fashion only promotes such a perspective, for we know that Gettysburg was not glorified nor was it beyond pain.
Thus, this movie is good for the arts and humanities, especially as a case for studying realistic portrayals of tragedy. We might contrast the war movies of today, that glorify the hero and belittle the enemy, treating, often foreign opponents, as less than human and deserving of suffering. Gettysburg counters these trends and shows that war deserves grief; that is, real war deserves real grief.