Private Ryan: Statue of Liberty as a big dick
Norman was not wrong in his confusion about Steven Spielberg
Norman was convinced Spielberg wanted male gay love, perhaps even read secret messages in Spielberg films other viewers missed.
Yet even as Norman stalked Spielberg and his family, intended to rape Spielberg or worse, Spielberg was creating his most sexually ambiguous film so far, exploring male bonding and perhaps aspects of gay love in regards to brotherhood.
In many – if not all – Spielberg films, the bonding of males is often stronger than man/female relationships. In “Saving Private Ryan,” Spielberg seems to raise the question of at what point does bonding become sexual and perhaps its implications.
Norman, of course, makes the mistake of believing what an artist puts on the screen reflects the artist’s wishes and desires.
While unconscious elements play a roll in most art, with an artist such as Spielberg – where most of the elements appear to be conscious manipulation, we can’t assume any personal wishes have slipped through.
So it is necessary to trod lightly when pointing out the gay references and implications in Private Ryan, and even more lightly when seeking to determine what they mean.
Yet it is clear that Private Ryan culminates not in the death of Capt. John Miller, the moral center of the film, but in the rape-like murder of Private Rivan by the German solider, the bayonet easing into the American’s soldier’s body in a scene so drenched in sexual tension and tenderness that it is almost impossible to mistake the reference.
Hints and foreshadowing of this scene are so scattered through the rest of the film that we get the subconscious build up to the violation action.
Although I’ll take up the concept of confused identity later in another essay, this aspect of Private Ryan is important to the gay theme here.
We don’t get merely two Ryans in this film, but a host of Ryans living and dead. We also get Ryan-like characters, double gangers, who play a role in confusion.
We get the wrong James Ryan – and his brothers still in Grammar School, we get the reports of the dead brothers, we even get one dead Frenchman with a Ryan-like name – whose dog tags our band of brothers finds at the rendezvous point. But most importantly, we gave the quite rebellious Revan or Rivan – who becomes one of the key figures, and the target of the knife attack.
We get clues to possible sexual aspect of this in an exchange between Rivan and his sergeant just after the beach scene where the two trade insults and talk about “getting it up the ass.”
Since Spielberg was already in production of “Private Ryan,” when Norman began stalking him, you have to view Spielberg’s exploration gay sexuality in this film as a bit ironic, and perhaps personally unnerving.
This film seems to broach the boundaries of brotherhood, trying perhaps to feel out the point at which male bonding becomes sexual.
While most Spielberg films have male bonding, here he seems to question how far it should go.
It is no question that the translator is writing a book on the brotherhood formed by men in combat or that the other soldiers see him as “fancy,” a now-outdated term for gay. The translator, of course, earns his manhood later in the film when he murders the German who raped/killed his fellow brother soldier with the knife.
Brotherhood is the fundamental theme of this film, and though I will explore it again in another essay, we need to determine some of its parameters to show how it fits into this theme.
We have a brotherhood of soldiers – the cream of the crop, as Miller calls them – sent out to find Ryan.
We have the five brothers who died in the Civil War. We have Ryan’s three brothers. We have the grammar school brothers of the mistaken James Ryan. We even have the brothers of the wrong Ryan’s commander. We even have the real Ryan proclaiming brotherhood with the soldiers he is with defending the bridge.
Miller – despite his dedication to his men – is not one of the brotherhood. He keeps secrets, almost to the end, and at times violates apparent unspoken rules of brotherhood leading to the deaths of at least two of his men, violations that he must make up for by eventually giving up his own life and the life of his men – especially Rivan.
Capalzio (don’t know the proper spelling) also died as a result of violating the rules when he tried to rescue a child. But I’m not certain how this fits into this theme.
Wade, however, the unit’s corpsman, clearly died when Miller refused to give into the brotherhood and avoid taking on the machinegun nest.
Miller seems not to understand the concept of brotherhood and is surprised several times by others who understand his mission better than he does.
Instead of honoring the brotherhood’s need for tribal like vengeance against the German who killed Wade, Miller – emblematic of modern justice – lets the German go, only to have the German return later to kill Rivan with the knife.
Ryan’s refusal to leave his brothers at arms near the bridge confuses Miller, who believes that he has crossed some strange boundary. It is his sergeant that sets him on the correct course, saying they all might earn their right to go home if they save Private Ryan – but by this time, saving Private Ryan means something different, much larger than it did when they set out.
Women are outside this sphere of brotherhood: mothers, daughters, even tarts. We see family members at the beginning and end, and brief glimpses of secretaries in the middle. While dying men call for their mothers, we get the sense of the growing sexual tension among the men, who must live with the memory of romance while keeping the company of their own sex.
Ryan’s story in remembering his brothers seems to highlight this tension. While we are led to believe that the Ryan brothers are rescuing their brother from the arms of an ugly woman – it is almost possible they are dragging him out of the arms of a woman.
Miller, the outsider, keeps the memory of his romance to himself, suggesting when all is said and done, male bonding should go only so far and no further, and that the rape/killing by the German is like many of the exploits of the Nazi – beyond the boundaries of civilized society.
Perhaps the most ironic symbol of the sexual confusion in this film comes with Spielberg’s use of the Statue of Liberty as a phallic symbol.
Early on, a Nazi rants about the Statue of Liberty being “kaput.”
The Jewish soldier yells back that the German was circumcised by his rabbi – attaching a sexual reference to Lady Liberty.
Later, before the big battle, one of the soldiers talks about getting a hard out like the Statue of Liberty, a strange metaphor since the statue is that of a woman.
How extensive this sexual identity conflict goes is hard to tell, since it is part of the subtext of the film. It is also difficult to precisely pin down where Spielberg falls in this argument. But there is some hint or warning contained in the film about the sexual dangers of brotherhood. The landlady in one tale suggests that when the solider is lonely or scared, he should think of her massive tits.