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Gabbard, K. (2000). Saving Private Ryan's Surplus Repression. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(1):177-179.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(1):177-179

Saving Private Ryan's Surplus Repression

Krin Gabbard

How did a film as conventional and predictable as Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan (1998) find so warm a reception among so many Americans? I would suggest that the oedipal issues that have long underpinned Spielberg's work have led him once again to touch his viewers at an especially vulnerable spot in their unconscious minds.

Although commentators have repeatedly praised the twenty minutes of bloody combat that opens the film, it is the first three minutes of the D-Day re-enactment that are the most crucial. When the front of the first landing craft drops open, virtually all of the infantrymen in the boat are immediately hit with machine-gun fire. We then see several men jumping into the sea as they try to escape from another landing craft; two are shot underwater and a third drowns under the weight of his backpack and gear. These are the film's lasting images of the absurdity of war, exploding conventional notions of heroism and the role of the individual soldier in battle. At this point Saving Private Ryan seems to suggest that war is senseless slaughter. But after these first few minutes, the American soldiers in Saving Private Ryan begin to fight back, and we get to know them. For the rest of the film the slaughter ceases to be senseless. As in the vast majority of American war movies, the possibilities for heroism and the contribution of the individual soldier are constantly available. Spielberg departs from the more recent paradigm of war films in the 1970s and 1980s by suggesting, unironically and sentimentally, that war is about building character and not about senseless slaughter.

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