It’s Movie Time: Courage Under Fire

As always, Spoiler Alert

I’m not a fan of war movies. (With a couple of notable exceptions, the titles of which start with letters later in the alphabet than C, so articles about them are still some time off.) I used to watch a lot of them, as my ex-husband was very enamored of the military and, in my opinion, tended to romanticize war, so he was a big fan of the genre. Me being the way I was at the time, I used to watch war movies with him – because couples are supposed to do everything together, dontcha know. It took a few years for me to stop making myself sit through films that generally bother me.

I didn’t think I’d seen Courage Under Fire. It’s about an incident during the Gulf War, a conflict I especially avoid movies about, because I remember all too well when it happened. The tension during the time leading up to the invasion was inescapable, and the memory of hearing the news that war had broken out is seared into my brain. Actually, to say I ‘heard’ the news is inaccurate. I was in university, heading across campus for an evening class in the dark. Walking past a student lounge, the light from it spilling out into the night like a beacon through floor-to-ceiling windows, I saw it was packed with people staring at the TV, and I knew. Their stillness was profound, eerie, and not something I like being brought to mind.

So, no Gulf War movies for me.

But as I watched it this weekend, certain things were familiar, and I realized I had seen Courage Under Fire before. And it’s actually pretty good. About Nat Serling (Denzel Washington), a Lieutenant Colonel who is investigating whether or not Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) should posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, it’s more of a mystery film than anything else.

Most of the movie focuses on Serling’s interviews with survivors as he tries to piece together what happened, as opposed to combat. Most of the combat scenes, meanwhile, replay the same sequence of events, but from the perspectives of Serling’s interviewees. It’s kind of interesting to repeatedly watch a scene that’s the same but different. Most of the differences are pretty big, mind, but there are some small ones, as well, and it’s entertaining to pick them out.

The movie’s cast is strong, although considering that I recall the marketing promoting it as a Meg Ryan vehicle, she’s not actually in it very much. Denzel Washington is as brilliant as always, it’s fun to see a young Matt Damon in an early role, and I’m always thrilled to see Scott Glenn, a longstanding crush of mine, in anything. But for my money, Lou Diamond Phillips as Monfriez absolutely steals the show. I haven’t seen him in much, but if his performance in Courage Under Fire is typical of his talent, perhaps I should check out the rest of his catalogue.

But it’s a scene with a secondary character, Serling’s wife Meredith (Regina Taylor) that ultimately won me over. In it, she tells Nat, who is dealing with his own post-combat demons, that it took her a long time to figure out how to be an army wife without ‘obliterating’ herself, and that it ‘wouldn’t be a hardship’ to not be one anymore.

I identified with Meredith a lot. One of my only rules when it comes to relationships, and it’s a non-negotiable one, is that I won’t get involved with anyone in the military. I know myself well enough to realize I would not handle the long absence/suddenly home cycle of my partner well, plus the pacifist in me has zero interest in dealing with any trauma they might suffer as a result of choosing to participate in something I’m so strongly against. So while she made a different choice from mine and married a military man, I got where Meredith was coming from.

I also got my ex a little better, too. Nat tells Meredith the army is his life, the implication being that it’s a calling, not a job. Meredith’s reply made me think.

You don’t have to figure it all out, Nat. You just have to admit that you can’t.

You have to want to be here with us, that’s all. We’ll be here. For a while.

The last couple of years we were together, my ex was unhappy at his job, but no matter how much I encouraged him to, he wouldn’t consider going anywhere else. It put a lot of strain on our marriage. It was so bad, I even suggested he join the military and I’d just deal with it, because I knew that’s what he really wanted to do. He refused, I’m certain because he knew how much I would hate it.

Obviously we ended up divorcing – not so much because we didn’t want to be with each other, I think, as we didn’t want to be where we’d ended up together. We’d reached an impasse. And after we split, my ex did, in fact, join the military.

At the time, I found that out from a friend of a friend of a friend, and could only roll my eyes at the news. But after maybe 15 years of no contact, my ex and I reconnected for a short time. (He even surprised the hell out of me by reading my blog for a while.) During our chats, I noticed he seemed more engaged and centred than he ever had when we were together, and certainly appeared happier than he’d been in our last few years. I was genuinely pleased for him.

But while watching Courage Under Fire, I realized that, adamant as I’d been that I wouldn’t live that life, those last few years, I’d essentially been an army widow.

And that’s a helluva thing to learn from a movie you never wanted to see in the first place.

To see other posts in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order, click here.

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