Rob Edelman: Surviving War
There is a movie, currently in release, which tells the story of a young man who finds himself in a life-threatening situation. All that sustains him is the found photo of a beautiful woman, whom he has never met. He survives but finds himself lost and frazzled, and unable to function in the everyday world. So he sets out to find this woman-- and make her real.
The movie in question is THE LUCKY ONE. The man in question is a U.S. Marine who has fought in the Iraqi war. He is “lucky” in that he comes home physically in one piece, while many of his comrades do so in body bags. But in order to go on living, he needs to make himself whole. The only way he can do this is by finding, and winning the affection of, the mystery woman in the photo.
If you are a sucker for sentimental, touchy-feely love stories that are formulaic to an extreme, and are not at all put off by cornball finales, you may find a certain entertainment quotient in THE LUCKY ONE. You will know that this film will ooze sentimentality if only because it is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, whose other books-into-films include MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, NIGHTS IN RODANTHE, and THE NOTEBOOK.
But what drew me to THE LUCKY ONE is its portrayal of contemporary war veterans, the value and purpose of their being in combat, and if their sacrifices are in any way trivialized. One fact that has long bothered me about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that only a tiny percentage of the U.S. population has a personal investment in them. If you have a son or daughter, sister or brother, or husband or wife who has been dispatched to a war zone, and who keeps following orders and returning there for a second or third tour of duty, you will be very aware of these wars. But to the rest of us, it is as if our country is not at war. Today, those of a certain age, whose grandfathers fought in World War II and whose fathers at least were worried about the Vietnam-era military draft, seem oblivious to Iraq and Afghanistan. This, I believe, is why we do not see anti-war demonstrations on college campuses.
I strongly believe that the scenario of any film that deals with contemporary combat veterans must acknowledge all this. To its credit, THE LUCKY ONE does so, but only on a very limited level. The title character comes home to an America that does not want to acknowledge that he has fought, and sacrificed much, for his country. So in this regard, he is an invisible man. Meanwhile, the villain of the piece, who is a classic macho jerk, sarcastically refers to him as “soldier boy.”
But where the film goes terribly wrong is that, while it depicts the veteran as troubled and scarred, the solutions to his problems are all too easily attained. All he needs is to have a sweet, pretty, all-American girl fall in love with him, and give herself to him. Then, all will be right with him, and with the world.
In reality, of course, life is not that simple.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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