Life is a difficult journey for most of us. According to a Harris Poll in 2017, only 33 percent of Americans were happy with their lives. This comes in comparison to 2016, where 31 percent reported being happy with their lives. That’s a pretty small number for the totality of the United States. It means there’s still a good chunk of people out there that do not like the lives they are living. Many of us turn to different paths to deal with unhappiness. Some seek out help from friends, family, or medical experts. Others still look toward film or music to deal with the highs and lows of their days.
Life is not meant to be easy by any means. Having a job and taking care of oneself can be a daunting maneuver. When the same poll not only finds that the happiest people were those in high-income households or those who were both Republican and Democrat alike, it means the average person out there who is taking care of themselves and holding down a job may not find substantial happiness in the direction of their life.
Cinema often allows us to look inward into our souls. It lets us reflect on the lives we have lived by identifying with the characters put before us. Take The Shawshank Redemption, for example. This is perhaps one movie that everyone can identify with. The plot follows Andy Dufresne, who is sentenced to two life sentences for allegedly killing his wife. The big surprise? He did not actually do it but is locked up anyways. Even worse, when they eventually find evidence he did not do it, he is still kept in prison and the warden of the prison ignores the evidence and buries it. What makes Dufresne such a compelling character?
The prison in the film is both literal and metaphorical. It’s literal in the thrust of the film but metaphorical for the prisons we often put ourselves in. It might be a bad relationship or marriage. In other areas, you may not like your job, church, doctor, etc. In any event, keeping oneself in such a prison when you don’t have to be kept there may be all the worse. The sad thing is that Dufresne has no choice until he does have one: he chooses to escape prison and start to take his life into his own hands. After the warden destroying any hope he has for being free, he decides enough is enough and things need to change.
In the end, Dufresne is able to escape the USA, and leaves to go to Mexico. His friend, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, is eventually paroled and follows Dufresne to a beautiful Mexican town right on the ocean. One wonders if either men brought a baseball clock with them to at least remember the good old days at the ball park. Both men are assumed to live their lives out in peace away from the world. In Saving Private Ryan, life reflections make themselves known once more.
The film focuses from beginning to end on James Francis Ryan, who is stuck behind enemy lines, and needs rescuing. It’s he who does the reflecting on his life in the beginning of the film. John Miller and his men are tasked with rescuing Ryan. It’s a film that focuses on the choices we make in life. Likely, if Miller and his men did not choose to rescue Ryan or were not given the mission, they would still be alive or would have met their demise another way. Ryan would not have survived the events.
However, Ryan is able to live a full life because Miller and his men choose to save him. This puts their sacrifice above all else for Ryan. Miller is never able to give his child a gift like a baseball clock in life. Resulting from this, Ryan grows old and wonders with his family whether he lived a good life while looking over the graves of Miller and others, who sacrificed to save him. In Ryan, Miller, and the other characters, we see ourselves. We wonder if we would have made the same choices that Miller and his group did. Just as we relate to Dufresne, we relate to Miller and Ryan. We might not be putting our lives on the line or being rescued by someone in a difficult war, but we all go through different life wars.
We deal with all sorts of battles. Sometimes, good people rescue us from them or help us. Other times, we have to decide to sometimes take our lives in our own hands. In Dufresne, Ryan, and Miller, we see ourselves and the choices we have to make in life. The films invite us to reflect on the experiences of these lead characters and let us connect to them. It’s through these ways, the films allow to look upon our own experiences and judge for ourselves one truth: how are we living our own lives?