Distortion, slush and chauvinism
Michael Bray (director) Pearl Harbor 182 minutes, general release
Hollywood has not exactly been renowned for making movies bringing depth, meaning and insight to important events throughout world history. Pearl Harbor is no exception. Still, never mind about provoking thought and encouraging enlightenment ? so long as the money keeps coming in. However, for a film which cost the equivalent of the GDP of six African states, as one film critic recently put it, only grossing an estimated $78 million during its first four days of release must have come as a disappointment to the billion-dollar California-based industry.
Gushing with the mawkish sentimentality characteristic of so many Hollywood ?blockbusters?, Pearl Harbor is a historically inaccurate and, outwardly apolitical interpretation of the events which occurred on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on December 7 1941. You might have expected something with a more serious political content for a film about America?s ?day of infamy?. Instead the main plot concerns fighter pilots Rafe and Danny (Ben Afflick and Josh Hartnett), two boyhood friends who grow up together and fall for a pretty lieutenant army nurse (Kate Beckinsale). After months of soul-searching, she has to succumb to her feelings for Danny, having been led to believe that her ?true love?, Rafe, died fighting with the RAF in Europe. Of course, the fact that Rafe has not died and returns in search of his beloved with the expectation of carrying on the relationship comes as no surprise to anyone. Barbara Cartland could not have written a better plot.
It is not only the tangled three-way love affair that is covered in slush. It is found everywhere. Music, special lighting, slow motion images, ?inspiring? references to god ? you name it, the film has it. The burnt American flag, sinking below the waves along with one of the country?s main battleships, the Arizona; the little dog jumping from his dying owner?s arms and later rescued from the burning harbour waters; Roosevelt daring to stand on his artificial legs in the face of dissent from his colleagues; and the two ace pilots downing any number of Zero fighter-bombers. John Wayne, eat your heart out! The fact that no US planes actually managed to intercept any enemy aircraft and that the army actually shot down some of its own planes during the chaos is conveniently overlooked.
Hollywood?s distortion of reality fits well with the image of a country that continues to assert itself as the world?s greatest. Indeed, to present anything resembling the truth would have dented Uncle Sam?s self-image.
Take the issue of race. In truth, at that time, black and white service personnel were segregated. Throughout World War II, there were numerous incidents of racist violence and abuse which sometimes ended in fatalities. Apart from a boxing match between a white and black member of the US navy there is little evidence of such tension in the film. We are shown images of a peaceful and cheerful coexistence - projecting today?s patronising, politically correct anti-racism back onto the past.
Similarly, there is little mention of the martial law that was declared in the aftermath of the bombing and there is scant reference to the paranoia, victimisation and prejudice of the US establishment towards the Japanese-American community living on the islands. Hundreds had their property destroyed, were forcibly removed from their homes and interned. It is a sickening irony that thousands of that same community later fought for the American war-hungry machine.
Pearl Harbor is a ridiculous, expensive but crude piece of Hollywood propaganda. Yet, in a modern-day America simmering with political and social tension, it serves a purpose: remembering your ?birthright?, embracing national pride and simply being American is the highest honour anyone could possibly have. While US imperialism strives to continue its military and economic domination of the world, the film reassures its citizens of the correctness of that chauvinistic zeal.