Mercy in Saving Private Ryan
I don’t know if Spielberg changed his script to Saving Private Ryan to include the scenes with “The German” but those scenes clearly mark the beginning of Spielberg’s turn to the dark side – and appear to reflect some of the inner turmoil he must have felt as a result of being stalked.
While Spielberg was filming Ryan, Norman invaded his home in LA.
What I call “the German scenes” are hugely important because as in Munich, they show the terrorist as a human being and his inability to back off from his murderous intentions.
The Captain (played by Tom Hanks) leading the American rescue mission pauses to disable a machinegun nest. One of his men is killed as a result. Several soldiers, who have killed German prisoners previously, seek to kill the lone German survivor. But after a pitiful scene, in which the German begs for his life, the Captain lets him go, sending him back to the American lines alone to turn himself into the allies.
This decision comes after the captain has seen many of his men dying in battle, and after one in particular is killed by a German sniper. The captain rationalizes the loss of these men by saying their deaths have saved the lives of many others. Indeed, this was his reasoning for attacking the machinegun nest, to keep it from killing more allies.
A clerk with almost no combat experience begs the captain not to let the German be murdered. The others who want to kill the German argue that he might regroup with other Germans and return to kill allied soldiers if they do not kill him now.
But the captain, an English teacher back home, is sick of killing, believing each person he kills makes it harder for him to go home.
Indeed, the German does come back -- at least symbolical, as a hand to hand battle wages in one of the buildings, and the clerk – who begged for the german prisoner's life earlier – is helpless to stop a German from brutally murdering one of the Americans.
In a scene, heavy with sexual overtones (perhaps reflecting the sexual attack Norman planned on Spielberg), the German injects his bayonet into the chest of one of the soldiers who had previously tried to kill him (hushing him as he kills him), while the clerk cringes on the stairway outside.
The clerk’s ineptness is made even clearer when the German comes out again. The German thinks so little of the man the cringing outside that he sees him as no threat and step around him. To a point, the German is right since the clerk also fails to provide the other Americans with needed ammunition to continue their struggle.
Later, after the death of the captain and after allied forces break through to rescue the rest, the clerk makes up for his earlier mistake by shooting the German who once more tries to surrender.
These sequences – although vital to the movies underlying theme – are part of a subplot not totally necessary to the line of action.
But it also appears to reflect the inner crisis Spielberg must be going through at the time.
How can a man who created ET deal with a killer who won’t stop killing?
This film also shows a departure from previous Spielberg films in another way.
Nearly every film Spielberg does have a character that serves as his alter ego. In most cases, it is a character in need of rescue. In this case, Spielberg should have been Ryan, but he is really the clerk – someone who showed mercy, got burned and thus won’t show mercy again.