Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Meddler #10: ...And My Fixes For Flags of Our Fathers

The first step is to do is bite the bullet and fictionalize the story far more that Eastwood and the writers were willing to do. If we want the irony of the situation to manifest in real time, then we can’t use the flashback/flashforward structure. We have to collapse the timeline so that the tour happens simultaneously with the second half of the battle. This didn’t actually happen this way, but it could have: the battle stretched on for six long weeks. The men really were pulled off the battlefield before the battle was over, so it’s not inconceivable that they could have gotten right out on tour. And if such a thing could be, it certainly should be:

  1. We begin with a veteran giving an outdoor speech in front of blow-ups of the enlistment photos of the ten soldiers he was closest to. He says that he’s there that day to talk about what heroism looks like. The story began in 1944...
  2. We begin with the preparation for the battle. We meet nine bad-asses and one hapless screw-up: our hero.
  3. The screw-up is called in by his superior, who asks what his goal is. He says he wants to win the war, single-handedly if needs be. Unfortunately, it’s not to be: he’s told that he’s going to be kept out of the action and made into a runner, ferrying supplies back and forth.
  4. Meanwhile the commander of the Marines meets with a representative of the Roosevelt white house. The rep tells him that they don’t just need to win this battle, they need to win it quickly. Another slow battle, even if it’s a victory, will only do more harm than good. The commander grits his teeth in anger and says he’ll do his best.
  5. After shelling the island from battleships for days, the men storm the beach. At first they take it easily, and they hope that the shelling did the job, but then the Japanese pop up out of their tunnel system and start fighting back. The Americans take the beach and the mountain peak with heavy casualties, but they now realize that it will take months to clear out all the tunnels on the rest of the island.
  6. In the lull after the first battle, they casually decide to mount a flag on the mountaintop. The runner and four of the bad-asses have some trouble with the heavy pole, and a photographer captures a photo it look more dramatic than it actually is.
  7. The commander reports the news about the tunnels back to Roosevelt’s rep who is disgusted. Win or lose, this battle won’t be a p.r. boost. The commander is infuriated at the lack of respect for the realities of war.
  8. As the fighting resumes, three of the men who raised the flag are killed.
  9. But then the photographer develops the photo and it runs in hometown papers where it causes an unprecedented sensation.
  10. The administration asks the press to de-emphasize the actual fighting on the island and play up the feeling raised by the photo instead. They are horrified to find out that three of the soldiers in the photo have since dead. They demand that the other three get pulled off the field immediately.
  11. Back on the island, the fighting is horrific but the men are closely bonded. Word comes down that the three surviving men in the photo are being pulled out for a publicity tour. The commander is incensed, since he needs every man he’s got. The men try to fight it unsuccessfully. Our screw-up dreads that he’s missing his last chance to help win the war. They regretfully say good-bye to the rest of their men.
  12. Meanwhile, the men razz the photographer for creating such a false impression with his photo. He says that he’ll try better next time to capture the truth…
  13. The men arrive back home where a series of increasingly silly parades celebrate the image, but not the actual heroism. They’re disgusted...
  14. More of the men on the island are killed as they try to penetrate the tunnel system but get repulsed.
  15. In America, the “heroes” hear how badly things are going on the island and demand to be sent back to the front, but then the rep reveals the bitter truth that American morale is collapsing. The war has dragged on much longer than they were promised, rationing is severe, the president is dying, and the budget is empty, unless they can sell more war bonds. Their request is denied. Two of them reluctantly agree to go along with this, but the third, Ira Hayes, can’t stomach it and asks to be sent back to the front.
  16. They continue the tour without him, but they feel chastened without him there, and the tour only gets tackier. They make that the next time they have to speak before a large crowd, they will tell the truth: that the photo wasn’t taken under fire and doesn’t represent any real heroism…
  17. Meanwhile, Ira Hayes arrives back at the island and won’t talk about the tour. They press him and he angrily tells them that America cares only about the photo, not about results. He feels terrible when he realizes that he’s demoralized the men. He reminds them that they aren’t fighting a p.r. battle, but a real fight, with real consequences. The only way out is through. They prepare for the final push…
  18. Cut to the next big speech back home, the two marines backstage psyche each other up to come clean, but before they speak, a mother and her son in his new uniform, want to take pictures with them. He says he wants to be a hero like them. She says that America hasn’t felt like this in months: people are talking again about the war ending in a permanent victory, not a temporary ceasefire, The men look at each other. They decide to cancel their expose. They go through with the scheduled program, and accept the adulation of the crowd. For the first time, they try to look like the heroes that everybody wants them to be. The rep is pleased.
  19. Back on Iwo Jima, the Americans enter the tunnels and fight it out with the Japanese. After suffering horrific casualties, the American finally secure the island.
  20. The photographer processes his images of the battle and aftermath, but realizes that they’re too gruesome, and destroys them: Let the previous, false image stand as the record of the battle.
  21. Back home, the news of the actual victory is a non-event, since the public has already accepted the photo and moved on. As the tour winds down, the “heroes” realize that they, too, are now yesterday’s news. They wonder if it was all worth it. Roosevelt’s rep shows them the numbers to prove it was. Enough war bonds have been sold to finish the war.
  22. We return to the veteran’s speech in the ‘60s. He tells us the ironic fates that awaited the survivors in the decades after the war (he tried and failed to follow up on all the job offers he got on the tour. Ira Hayes drunk himself to death.) We pan up to see that he is giving the speech in front of the Washington D.C. statue that was modeled on the photo. In summation, he says that only now has he come to accept the truth: that what heroism looks like has nothing to do with what heroism actually is. What he still doesn’t know is which is more important.

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