This movie review of Letters from Iwo Jima is not going to be your typical review.
Much to my dismay, Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima turned out to be little more than another war propaganda movie. Infantilized, stylized and ultra-adrenalized for maximum emotional effect, the movie had the sole effect of evoking pity for the inferior Japanese whose pathetic technology, ignorant culture and inadequate production capability were no match for the superior America whose soldiers apparently meted justice randomly.
The critical response is puzzling, therefore. Every one of the presumptive adults who reviewed this movie is in awe of the cultural magnitude of what they call Eastwood’s great achievement. Much like The Flags of Our Fathers, Letters is another propaganda movie about how wonderful war against an evil enemy is, and everyone, it seems, is gullible enough to fall for the cultural gimmick and avoid or deliberately overlook the explicit propaganda of the movie altogether.
The movie’s appeal to the Japanese is not surprising at all, of course, because that country has cultivated a victim’s perspective with respect to World War II ever since it succumbed to the brutality of the atomic bombs. Letters projects an image that the Japanese wish to project these days. The movie mocks the “samurai way” of honorable death, even though the idea still persists pervasively in Japanese society. The movie portrays Japanese society as civil, though repressed, and the Japanese people as victims of the emperor, much like Japan’s enemies. Of course, the emperor remains in Japan, and his offspring are celebrities. So, this portrayal of victimhood is a false image that Japan projects for its own benefit and to the consternation of the Chinese and the Koreans who have yet to receive acknowledgment of atrocities from Japan.
So, why would Clint Eastwood make a propaganda movie? Why would a man who has made so many sophisticated movies resort to making a movie that insists on tying America’s greatness to a single event: World War II? The only salient answer is that he is simply the latest to cash in on the redemptive value of World War II. In a time when the US is involved in its second worthless, meaningless war in the middle east and its greatest blunder since Vietnam, people are desperate for redemption. At at a time of low national morale, people are desperate to see scenes that depict America as a great nation, a savior nation, a generous nation, a kind nation.
People also like violence that appears not gratuitous. Spielberg proved this with Schinlder’s List and Saving Private Ryan. It is only natural, then, that Eastwood would use the cloak of redemption to make a propaganda movie energized with graphic and realistic violence for the desperate masses.
So, yes, if you want to be manipulated into thinking how wonderful war is and how wonderful it is that the US won WW II, then see this movie. It will make you cry. It will make you sad, and it will make you forget what a wretched situation the US has created in Iraq. In as much, Letters from Iw Jima will make you feel good. That’s what good propaganda does.
But, Eastwood is older than Spielberg. He could have made a more sophisticated movie.