Classic Films for Commemorating Pearl Harbor and a Nation at War During Christmas


Today we commemorate “Pearl Harbor Day.” Sixty-nine years ago, “Battleship Row,” in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked with vehement force and incomprehensible destruction by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The next day, in his address to Congress and an anxious nation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy.” And thus we were drawn into fatal conflict with Japan, and soon after, with Germany.

And it is fitting that we should remember America’s war effort, even during this Christmas season.

  • It was during this season that the United States entered the war with Japan, in direct response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • American service men and women engaged the enemy for several consecutive Christmases during World War II.
  • Notable events of the Second War happened during the Christmas season.
  • Today, the United States is engaged in war in the Middle East, and many American men and women will be far from home at Christmas, while others prepare to be deployed.

Film provides us with a unique way to remember. Here is a list of a few films that recall Pearl Harbor and Christmas during wartime:

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

This is the classic reenactment of events during the attack on Pearl Harbor. It re-tells what happened, from both the American and the Japanese perspectives.

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Two boyhood friends, Navy pilots stationed at Pearl Harbor, endure the trauma of the attack.

Joyeux Noël (2005)

I first recommended this film last year. It recalls a most unusual Christmas eve encounter—called “the Christmas Truce”on the World War I German front, between the Germans on the one side and the French and Scottish forces on the other. Joyeux Noël is on my list of movies to see again each Christmas season.

For other posts I’ve written about this film, see Favorite Christmas Movie for 2009 and Joyeux Noël: A Film Discussion Guide.

Stalag 17 (1953)

This may seem an odd entry. First, Christmas plays an understated role in the film. Second, this is a Billy Wilder comedy. Third, it is an older movie, filmed in black and white. But in its defense, note that Stalag 17 was one of the first films to join laughter with the ignominy of war. In it we observe a group of men courageously, though often raucously, making the best of a bad situation. Yes, there is comedy, some of it (okay, much of it) silly. This is, after all, a Billy Wilder product. But there also is pathos and suspense.

On close inspection, many people today, with no war experience at all, can relate to the diverse feelings exhibited by these men, feelings that are compounded during the holidays. Loneliness. Unrequited love. Disillusionment. Alienation.

Wilder was an intelligent director. He was interested in far more than the easy laugh. You see this in Stalag 17 when you pay close attention. Grown men revert to childishness to comfort themselves. They are resourceful, both at play and in the attempt to re-gain their freedom. Group dynamics are explored with sensitivity to how leadership and courage are perceived by others, what happens when the wrong person is blamed for serious misconduct, how trust is built up, then dissolved, and what people are willing to sacrifice for the good of others.

Stalag 17 stars William Holden, Otto Preminger, and Peter Graves (of the original Mission Impossible TV series). The movie was the “inspiration” for the TV series Hogan’s Heroe’s, which even “borrowed” the Sergeant Schultz character.

I saw this movie for the first time last night, and I recommend it.

Recommended links related to the attack on Pearl Harbor:

Links related to Christmas during World War I and World War II:

Do you have a movie to recommend that fits the category of this post? Of so, please let us know in the comment box.

The movies mentioned here:

What’s to Like about “Inglourious Basterds”?


I didn’t see Inglourious Basterds in the theater. It sat in my Amazon Video on Demand queue until last night.

I know it was a popular nominee for various Academy Awards recently. But I haven’t read any reviews and I’m not sure I ever saw a trailer. That’s all for the good. I didn’t know what to expect, and that surely made seeing the movie a better experience. Read more of this post

Joyeux Noël: A Film Discussion Guide


Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) (France, 2005); directed by Christian Carion

In an earlier post, I recommended the film Joyeux Noël. The DVD of this wonderful foreign film can be viewed with English subtitles. Here are the discussion questions I’ve used recently in my course on Faith, Film and Philosophy:

  1. Many film critics, even some who give it high marks, say this film is “sentimental.” What do you think they mean by that? What evidence could be cited in support of the claim that the film is sentimental?
  2. Audebert, the French Lieutenant, draws something he’s seen on the wall of his quarters. What does he draw? Why does he draw this? Does this have any significance for the film as a whole? Explain your answer.
  3. Is it reasonable to the think of the alarm clock as a character in the film? Explain the role(s) played by this clock throughout the film. Read more of this post

Favorite Christmas Movie for 2009


I know, it’s January 2, 2010. But within the past few days I watched a movie that ranks as one of the best—maybe the best—Christmas movie I’ve seen. It’s the foreign film called Joyeux Noël (translated, “Merry Christmas”).

The setting is Christmas Eve, 1914, on the battlefield, with French, Scottish, and German battalions hunkered down in their respective trenches. Conditions are grim. But something very special happens.

Plotting, casting, cinematography, soundtrack are all good. But crucial to the success of this film is that the story it tells is true.

The film is realistic down to the language and accents. The French Lieutenant speaks French, the German Lieutenant speaks German, and (most challenging of the three?) the Scottish Lieutenant speaks English, but the way they do in Scotland. There are no subtitles in the digital version I viewed. But to me, this was a major plus. Read more of this post

What Is the Movie Avatar About?


So what is the movie Avatar really about? Here are some possibilities:

  1. The obstacles to finding spiritual energy in the world around us
  2. The joys of flying a high-tech helicopter
  3. The dangers of the scientific enterprise, or of scientific knowledge
  4. The need for humans to find and explore life on other planets
  5. The vices of capitalism
  6. The honorable service of the United States Marines
  7. The virtues of a simple lifestyle
  8. The religious significance of trees
  9. The degrading effect of secularism in contemporary western civilization
  10. The color blue

Amazon link for Avatar

“Batman and Friends”: A Discussion Guide


morrissuperheroes-and-philosophyTom Morris and Matt Morris are the editors of a a book called Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way (Open Court 2005). Matt’s own chapter (pages 102-117) is titled “Batman and Friends: Aristotle and the Dark Knight’s Inner Circle.” I created this discussion guide, based on Matt’s chapter, for my course on Faith, Film and Philosophy.

Read pages 102-105 and answer questions (1) through (4):

  1. What explains the main title of this essay, “Batman and Friends”?
  2. Morris writes that “Batman is often thought of as the most solitary superhero.” Do you agree with this assessment? How does this set things up for the main theme of Morris’s chapter?
  3. The chapter sketches Aristotle’s three-fold analysis of friendship as developed in the Nichomachean Ethics. What three types of friendship does Aristotle describe? What is your assessment of Aristotle’s analysis? Is it plausible? Is it comprehensive? Do you have friendships of each kind?
  4. Morris uses the Aristotelian analysis of friendship as a template for studying Batman’s closest relationships. Before reading Morris’s discussion of Batman’s relationships, write down your own thoughts about Batman’s relationships. What are his primary relationships? How would you describe each relationship in terms of Aristotle’s three-fold analysis of friendship?

aristotleRead pages 105-115 and answer these questions:

  1. Which of Batman’s relationships does Morris consider in terms of the Aristotelian account of friendship? How does Morris classify each relationship? Do you agree with his classification? If you disagree, explain.
  2. Is there anyone else who is closely related to Batman who is not considered by Morris in this essay? If so, identify the person or people you’re thinking of. What does Aristotle’s analysis of friendship imply about the relationship(s) you have in mind?
  3. What is Morris’s primary thesis in this essay? What is your evaluation of Morris’s thesis?

Now read pages 115-117 and answer the following questions:

  1. In this section of his essay, Morris writes about the “elusiveness” of a certain kind of friendship. How does he explain this elusiveness in Batman’s case? Do you agree that Batman is incapable of this kind of friendship? Explain your answer.
  2. If you’ve seen one or both of the most recent Batman movies, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), what features of these films support or conflict with Morris’s analysis of Batman’s friendships?posterbatman-beginsthe_dark_knight_poster
  3. Who has more or less authentic relationships with others, Batman or Bruce Wayne? Explain your answer.
  4. Would it ever be possible for Batman to have the kind of friendship that Aristotle admires most? Explain your answer.
  5. Morris identifies three things that can happen when we “philosophically address art, whether it’s a novel, a comic, a painting, or a film” (see pp. 116-17). What are these three things? What does Morris say is the most important contribution philosophical analysis of art can make? Do you believe that philosophy can play this role? In his use of philosophy to analyze Batman’s character and relationships, does Morris succeed in showing that philosophy can make this kind of contribution?
  6. Morris concludes with an admonition. Think about your own ambitions and sense of calling. If you were to follow Morris’s admonition, what would it mean for you? Be as specific as possible. Does Morris’s counsel seem like good advice to you? Explain your answer.

Copyright © 2009 by R. Douglas Geivett

Army of Shadows: A Film Discussion Guide


army_of_shadows_1shThe French film L’Armée des Ombres (“Army of Shadows”) is an adaptation of the 1943 book (same title) by Joseph Kessel, who participated in the French Resistance. Whether you know little or much about the Resistance, if you want a realistic film portrayal of a critical aspect of the Second World War, this is a film to rent or buy. I can’t imagine a more effective vehicle for presenting an insider’s view of the movement.

The film is expertly cast and paced with precision. But the action is subdued, so don’t expect a Jason-Bourne-meets-James-Bond kind of experience. Army of Shadows offers a tight shot of espionage—plotting with limited resources, the paltry odds of success, endless psychological misgivings, and complex interpersonal dynamics.

The movie is filled with tension. But it’s the kind of tension that invites serious consideration of difficult questions:

  • What does it really mean to be courageous?
  • Is it possible to exercise genuine freedom of self-determination in the very moment you are about to be executed by a firing squad?
  • Can a cause be so just that killing an innocent co-belligerent is justified if letting her live could compromise the mission?
  • On what basis can you entrust your life to someone you’ve never met?
  • Should a woman with the skills needed to execute a tactically sophisticated and personally dangerous mission be enlisted if she has a husband and children who know nothing of her activities?
  • Does it ever make sense to engage in a fatal rescue operation if no one will know of your valor?
  • Why does the simple offer of a cigarette enable some men to face certain death with dignity?
  • Was the French Resistance a prudent response to the Nazi occupation of France?

This film churns the emotions and the mind. The Resistance is testimony to the indomitable spirit of human beings guided by commitment to a high ideal. I saw  Army of Shadows soon after seeing the Angelina Jolie film Changling. The similarities are unmistakable. Both are based on actual events. In both cases individuals pursuing righteous causes suffer terrible indignities. In both, success seems humanly impossible. Hope wells up from a secret place and keeps men and women in the game, even when the game is almost certainly lost. These are remarkable parallels, parallels I would have missed if I had not seen the two films in the same week.

As these films end and the credits roll, some viewers will be stuck to their seats with feelings of sadness mixed with cheer. The sadness explains itself. The cheer is unexpected. But the cheer is solidly grounded. It rises in response to the failed heroism of Christine Collins, the mother in Changling, and of Phillipe Gerbier, the head of a Resistance network in L’Armée des Ombres. Because the heroism is real, though it is not rewarded with complete success (or perhaps because it is not rewarded with complete success), our own dignity is affirmed.

I’m ususally content to see a movie once, even a very good movie. But soon I’ll be downloading L’Armée des Ombres from Amazon to my TiVo. This one is worth owning and re-viewing.

Amazon DVD

Amazon DVD

Amazon Video on Demand

Amazon Video on Demand

The Book by Joseph Kessel

The Book by Joseph Kessel

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