I can’t even remember when the last time it was that I wrote about a Steven Spielberg film on “Reel Christianity”. In 2011, I did an article on “Close Encounters”, but besides that, there hasn’t been much on Spielberg or his work that I’ve written. I’m not sure why that is, but I do know that this week and the next, as part of the “Leaving the Ninety-nine” series, I will be writing about two Spielberg films that I think fit this teaching of Jesus very well. The first is what many consider his masterpiece, the World War Two action drama “Saving Private Ryan”.
The film opens with the iconic, twenty-minute-long battle sequence of the invasion of Normandy, where we follow a group of soldiers led by a Captain Miller (Tom Hanks). During the battle, one of the corpses we see is of an American soldier with the last name Ryan. He is one of four brothers fighting in the war and one of three of them who have already died in combat. The fourth, James Ryan (Matt Damon), is still out fighting, but no one is sure where he is. But General George C. Marshall (Harve Presnell), against the advice of those under his command, declares that James Ryan is alive, out there in Germany somewhere, and that a team of men must go find him and get him out of that war.
So Miller and several of his men are chosen to go find Ryan, and we learn through the hour and a half that they spend searching for him that overall, none of them are happy about it. Among them are Private Reiben (Edward Burns) and Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi):
REIBEN: You wanna explain the math of this to me? I mean, where's the sense of risking' the lives of the eight of us to save one guy?
WADE: Reiben, think about the poor [guy’s] mother.
REIBEN: Hey, Doc, I got a mother, all right? I mean, you got a mother. Sarge has got a mother. I mean, [heck], I bet even the captain's got a mother. …Well, maybe not the captain, but the rest of us got mothers.
MILLER: We all have orders, and we have to follow them. That supersedes everything, including your mothers.
REIBEN: Even if you think the mission's FUBAR, sir?
MILLER: Especially if you think the mission's FUBAR.
FUBAR, by the way, stands for Fumbled Up Beyond All Recognition. Well, not quite, but I wasn’t about to put a dirty word in my article. Anyway, the group of men travels through Germany looking for Private Ryan, putting themselves in danger every step of the way. Two men, including Wade, are even killed during the search. Eventually, they do find Ryan, but he refuses to go home when the men he is fighting with have to stay where they are. Miller is conflicted about what to do, and then his friend Sergeant Horvath (Tom Sizemore) tells him what he thinks:
HORVATH: Part of me thinks the kid's right… But then another part of me thinks, what if by some miracle we stay, then actually make it out of here. Someday we might look back on this and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole… mess.
In a following battle, Miller is killed, but Ryan stays alive and is subsequently sent back home. The film closes as we see James Ryan, now a grandfather, at Miller’s tombstone reflecting on the war.
When I was thinking of doing this series, this was another film I immediately thought of that I knew would be appropriate. This team of soldiers goes through the hell of World War Two to find a single man and bring him back safely to his mother. It doesn’t seem fair, sure. But if we think about God’s love the same way, we realize that His love isn’t fair, either. If He was fair, we’d all be dead because we are all sinners. But we are still loved, and that’s the miracle of faith that we all need to accept and rejoice in. My prayer is that you would indeed rejoice in that today.