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Film Analysis: Korean War Films Essay


Pork Chop Hill

The movie “Pork Chop Hill” is based off the 1953 battle between the 7th infantry division of the U.S. army and the forces of the combined communist forces of China and North Korea. Interestingly enough the movie was actually released in 1959, six years after the Battle of Pork Chop hill.

Whether the director, Lewis Milestone, was attempting to exploit the fact that the Korean war was still fresh on the minds of various individuals is unknown however it must be stated that during the 1950’s various war movies such as “Steel Helmet” released in 1951 attempted to capitalize on public interest in the war effort and as such this period is known as the start of the war movie franchise which have inundated the movie industry to this day with war movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor.

The one problem with trying to find unique elements in the film is the fact that so many war movies have been released over the years that various themes and elements have been literally used to death over and over again resulting in nearly all movies having the same plot line and elements despite being placed in different settings.

As is the case in most of these movies they usually start off presenting the main characters, create a period where the characters get to know one another, insert a state of conflict, portray the horrors of war and afterwards show the strength and resolution of the main characters in overcoming conflict. Pork Chop Hill follows this format exactly and as such it cannot be said that the overall plot of the movie was unique.

One way of looking at the movie it to examine it in the context of its historical period and attempt to discern its unique aspects, the fact is the movie is set within an era of conflict between the ideologies of democracy and communism and as such certain elements pertaining to this state of affairs might be inherent in the film itself.

Upon a closer examination of the film one aspect does present a rather interesting backdrop to the conflict, namely, the Panmunjeom cease fire negotiations.

It must be noted that at the exact same time as the Panmunjeom cease fire negotiations to end the war were being conducted the fighting at Pork Chop Hill was intensifying, the reason behind this lies with the fact that the Communist forces at the time were testing the resolve of the American diplomats in negotiations since the area of Pork Chop Hill was an inherent aspect of the cease fire negotiations (Marino, 2003).

Perceived weakness on the part of America could have lead to an escalation of the conflict and created an even worse state of affairs (Marino, 2002).

From this a unique aspect of the film does present itself wherein diplomatic negotiations and military tactics come hand in hand, where power and an unwillingness to give up become the pivotal turning point in the conflict.

Based on the conflict between democracy and communism at the time of the movie’s release it can be said that the movie itself contained a message for the American people in that it encouraged them to never give up in the face of insurmountable odds and the threat of communism against the American way of life.

The Manchurian Candidate

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War the Manchurian candidate is a film that contains a distinctly unique approach to portraying the hostility between democracy and communism. The uniqueness of the film lies in the theoretical concept of brainwashing and the use of McCarthyism as a method of advancement in politics.

In fact the entire movie delves deeply into the concept of psychological manipulation as shown by the brainwashing done on the main character Raymond Shaw and the use of mass hysteria in order to manipulate people into doing a certain action. It is actually this focus on the ability to manipulate and control the minds of people which becomes the central plot by which the entire movie revolves.

The only other film that even comes close to the plot of this film is the 2004 remake under the same name however it incorporates modern day elements such as the use of nanotechnology in order to manipulate the brain.

The concept of hypnotism and brainwashing has been a focus of study over the course of several decades with various experts agreeing that the brain can be fooled to an extent through the use of an external stimulus however these same studies also agree that an entirely new persona cannot be supplanted over another personality.

They also state that a person’s actions cannot be controlled without the express knowledge and agreement of that person and concepts such as the creation of Manchurian candidates cannot be created with the present sciences available.

Another element that is unique to the film is the concept of hidden enemies, it was during the late 1940’s to the end of the 1950’s that the concept of the “Red Scare” penetrated deeply into the psyche of the American public wherein the fear of communism made people see apparent communist threats everywhere especially within the borders of the United States itself (Jackson, 2000).

One of the contributing factors behind this were the actions of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy in which he undertook a campaign of exploiting the fear of communism by insinuating that thousands of communists were in vital positions throughout the U.S. and that they posed a threat to the continuity of democracy.

In fact the concept of McCarthyism is based off the practice of directing accusations against other parties indicating their disloyalty or complicity towards treasonous actions without proper evidence at hand.

The Manchurian candidate was in a sense an embodiment of the hidden threat of communism that could pose as any able bodied American citizen until the time to strike came at hand (Jackson, 2000).

Although it was not apparent, the character of John Yerkes Iselin was actually a paraody of U.S. Senator John McCarthy in that he used the same tactic of fear and manipulation in order to further his political agenda. It due to such elements that the movie becomes a truly timeless classic that is as entertaining today as it was back then.

Before ending this examination of the view one last unique aspect must be mentioned that is pivotal in the movie’s storyline, namely the ending where the main character kills his own stepmother and father while wearing the Medal of Honor. Earlier in the movie it was shown that the Iselin’s were in fact communist agents placed into the U.S. in order to control the U.S. presidency.

While one on the plot holes in the film is the fact that the main character, Raymond Shaw, was never aware of his parent’s activities even before he was brainwashed the fact remains that the reason why he wore the Medal of Honor when he killed his parents was due to the fact that he himself was loyal to the concepts of U.S democracy.

In fact, Shaw wearing the medal is actually a slight bit of propaganda embedded into the movie wherein he represents the inability of the concept of U.S. democracy to be truly stamped out despite the actions of communism to subvert it. In other words the entire movie could be considered as another means for the government to use popular culture in order to influence the masses.

It must be noted that at the time of its filming the U.S. government did exert a substantial level of influence over the movie industry.

Many films created at the time were either distinctly prodemocracy or anti-communist, in fact many films portrayed communism as a form of evil that would seek to subvert America and democracy at every turn. Seeing the use of pro-American propaganda is rather unique when taking into consideration that it was a form of psychological manipulation in a movie about psychological control and manipulation.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri

The film “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” is unique in that there is no happy ending to the film at all, the main character dies and the ending is one where the realities of war are set against the loss of life which posits the question of war ever truly being worth the loss of good men (Kaufman, 2002).

Various conflicts around the world such as the Vietnam War, Operation Desert Storm, the war against terror and other minor conflicts all result in the loss of life on either side. The Bridges of Toko -Ri tries to get audiences to relate to this by placing the main character in a familiar setting (the life of a civilian) and places it against the backdrop of the Korean conflict.

From this viewers can see the stark contrast between civilian and military lives and the sacrifices men and women in the army make in order to safeguard the lives of civilians in their home countries.

On the other hand, besides the lack of a happy ending the entirely of the film itself still follows the same format as many other movies portraying the realities of war. The scenes showing the civilian aspect of the main characters life, showing his wife and family as well as the harshness of war is similar to nearly every single war movie created.

Even movies such as Saving Private Ryan follow the same standardized format with each protagonist going through the same problems albeit in different settings. The message of the movie is the same compared to other movies of the same genre and as such there really is very little to consider the movie truly unique.

While the use of aerial footage involving the bombing runs could be considered unique at the time of its creation the fact remains that from a modern perspective the movie leaves much to be desired. While the events of the movie are supposedly based off the accounts of James Michener when he was a correspondent during the Korean War the basis of the story really leaves much to be desired.

The only aspect worth mentioning is the change that occurs with Commander Wayne Lee as he goes from caring for his men to caring for the mission that he is to accomplish.

This is actually symbolic of the realities of the U.S. fight against communism at the time where the U.S. government did not care so much about the possible causalities from the various wars it entered but rather focused on its mission to prevent the spread of communism by whatever means necessary (Kaufman, 2002).

References List

Jackson, T. (2000). The Manchurian Candidate And The Gender Of The Cold War. Literature Film Quarterly, 28(1), 34.

Kaufman, R. F. (2002). Behind The Bridges At Toko-Ri. Naval Aviation News, 84(3), 18.

Marino, J. I. (2003). Meat Grinder On Pork Chop Hill. (Cover Story). Military History, 20(1), 42.

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IvyPanda. "Film Analysis: Korean War Films." December 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-analysis-korean-war-films-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Film Analysis: Korean War Films." December 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/film-analysis-korean-war-films-essay/.

References

IvyPanda. (2019) 'Film Analysis: Korean War Films'. 18 December.

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