27 November 2007

28 NOV 2007 Deployment at the movies

28 NOV 2007 Deployment at the movies
I got up a little early today. I am giving grand rounds later, so maybe I am a little nervous. I’ll be talking about a specialized procedure we do for children at my hospital in Texas called ECMO. It stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation which is a long way of saying “artificial lung”. Our team in Texas is special because we can take care of a baby using this artificial lung and fly him or her anywhere in the world with Air Force planes. We can fly to a baby in need anywhere in the world, I can do the operation to connect them to the artificial lung, and then we can fly them back to our newborn intensive care unit in Texas. This is good because US troops and their families are stationed all over the world, sometimes far from the advanced medical care available in the United States. I’ve spoken about it before, so the talk should go fine.

There is a subject I’ve been thinking about for a long time over here, and I’ve wanted to write about it. It’s pretty important and I’ve been waiting until I had enough time to give it the attention it deserves. The subject is movies during deployment. They are such a big part of our experience. Movies provide that temporary distraction from the troubles we face. They give a moment in the dark to ease the burden of being far from family. They make us laugh and get us pumped up for the mission. Everyone with whom I’ve come in contact in Balad has had at least a mild interest in movies. We bring them from home and watch them on laptop computers as we wait in airports. We trade them and get together in the Swamp after dinner to watch together. We browse the Haji mart for pirated copies of new films and boxed sets that exist nowhere else like “Brad Pitt Super Golden 12 Movies in One.”  We monitor the weekly announcement of the theater schedule, and plan our dinners around new releases. We quote favorite lines to each other as we operate on soldiers late into the night.

Movies are a popular deployment pastime for the same reason they were popular during World War II. They provide a quick emotional boost that is sorely needed in troubling times. We can’t make the war over, but we can escape for a moment. What surprises me is that the most popular deployment movies are war-themed movies. The question surfaces: Why would we want to take a break from the war by watching a war? I think the answer is that Hollywood so glamorizes war that it becomes something exhilarating and sexy. This is far removed from the boredom and dustiness that is the reality of our war. So war in the movies still provides a break from the war that crawls by our eyes, day in and day out. In an attempt to inform you, or maybe just to entertain myself, I have ventured to give an answer to the query: “What is the best deployment movie?”

I have to take a moment here to state the obvious; these observations are of course based on my personal preferences. I’m bound to throw in a movie that you don’t like and omit one that you adore. The choices wouldn’t be the same for a different troop. I’m sure a woman would come up with a different list. A Soldier in Baghdad would be sure to prefer a different spread of movies than a doctor in Balad. However, I know from many conversations on the base and from the cheers of troops in the theater some of the basics that hold appeal out here. I’ve also left out some of my favorites at home that just aren’t deployment movies. I’ve mentioned before that there is a danger of my running on for far too long. So, if you don’t feel like putting up with the blabber, I’ve finished this post with a few top 10 lists that should cut to the chase.

I’ll start by discussing genre. We’ve already brought up the popularity of the war movie. One of the best examples of this is “Full Metal Jacket”. Kubrick does such an amazing job showing first the training of a Marine, then combat in Viet Nam. Every troop can quote a few lines to dress down their buddies drill sergeant style: “Only two things come from Texas…”. Many amazing Viet Nam movies have come out, perhaps out of our collective desire to exorcise the national pain felt through that experience. “Apocalypse Now” is a beautiful journey into the unknown heart of darkness in the Vietnamese jungle. In “Good Morning, Viet Nam” Robin William’s portrayal of Adrian Cronauer mixes humor and horror in response to the absurdities and atrocities of war. It seems that each war has its representative movies. The pain and heroism of World War I can be seen in “All Quiet on the Western Front”, which brings out the humanist antiwar sentiment of the Remarque novel,  and “The Lost Batallion” in which Rick Schroder does a great job of demonstrating how unlikely leaders and regular guys can discover that they are stronger than they expected. World War II inspired many contemporary and current works such as “Saving Private Ryan”, with shocking realism, “Catch 22”, a humorous pacifist piece marked by style of the sixties and the “Band of Brothers” series, which develops characters so real you feel you grew up with them. The attack on Pearl Harbor alone has been chronicled in films like “In Harm’s Way”, which showcases an aging but powerful John Wayne and “Pearl Harbor”, which is a pretty face showcase but also delivers stunning panoramic scenes. I see the Korean War through the lens of “M*A*S*H.” Episodes of the television serial that followed were more a part of my medical education than microbiology or pathophysiology. The grit and frustration of the First Gulf War are so well portrayed in “Jarhead” even though it leaves out a few sordid details from the book. “Three Kings” is great more as a caper than as an accurate portrayal of war in the Middle East. Even small conflicts like Granada have their movies with “Hamburger Hill” with a gristly Clint Eastwood, and “Blackhawk Down” a vivid and guttural expression of the disappointing loss in Somalia as well as a premonition of war in the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah. A worthy standout from ancient war is “The 300” which bears the marks of its graphic novel roots in the depiction of an outnumbered Spartan force. It will be interesting to see what movies come of our war, but movies like “The Kingdom” with very hot Jennifer Garner are a prediction of a focus on conflict with cultural differences and how far we can break the rules before we lose ourselves.

War movies are a special sub-genre of action movies. Action moves are great for deployment. We want the explosions and car chases. It is all about distraction from the drab slog of life over here. One could use the term “guy movies”, but I know from discussions with women over here that lady troops want the same thing.  Perhaps they also want to watch “She’s All That”, but it doesn’t subtract from the unisex appeal of the action movie.

A good example of the action movie would be every installment of the “Die Hard” oeuvre. Bruce Willis’ John McClane gets more beat up and bloody than any action hero and keeps going. The Die Hard movies are also great representatives of the buddy movie device, even though in the first “Die Hard” Bruce Willis doesn’t meet his buddy until the end of the movie. The Die Hard movies also provide some of the most intense villains around starting with Alan Rickman’s Hans. Another great action hero is Arnold Schwartzenegger. The “Terminator” movies provide great fights, plenty of firepower, and very quotable lines. Since Schwartzenegger is the Governator now, it is questionable if he will be providing more deployment material. Steven Segal has an excellent supply of kick-ass action movies, doubtless the best example for deployment being “Under Siege”. He is a deadly military member (albeit a sailor), he takes on traitors and mercenaries trying to steal nuclear warheads and the movie contains one of the most gratuitous nude scenes when a Playmate pops out of the cake oblivious to the warfare around her. No listing of tough guys would be complete without mentioning Chuck Norris, since when he does a push-up, he doesn’t go up, the world goes down. And we cannot forget that “Charlie’s Angels” are far tougher than all of us, and totally hot, to boot.

Gangster and crime films can also deliver a momentary thrill during deployment. The Godfather has set a standard that has been deliciously reworked in “Scarface”. “New Jack City” is a masterful period piece in which director Mario Van Peebles captures the drug wars whose effects I saw as a medical student in the ER in Baltimore. Wesley Snipes as Nino Brown is the perfect villain that we just might secretly want to be. “Cool Hand Luke” and “Shawshank Redemption” bear mention as deployment films because we can relate to the idea of an imprisoned population doing their best to retain their individuality. I haven’t attempted to eat 50 eggs, but I can attest that drinking a cold beer after a hard day’s work makes me feel like a man, or at least drinking a cold near-beer after a hard day’s work makes me feel like a near-man. Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” is the unforgiving law-giver that treats civilian crime with the intensity of a personal war, even though “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

A classic action genre very appropriate for deployment is the kung fu movie. Sonny Chiba’s “Street Fighter” movies are a great place to start along with Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon”. There are modern versions with Chow Yun Fat’s “Bulletproof Monk” which carries the tradition of simplistic plot development and the indoctrination of a skillful beginner, but adds the modern dressings of special effects and girl on girl fighting. There are great precursor films such as the Samurai classic “The Seven Samurai” by Kurosawa which has defined so many standards such as the villagers in need, the assembly and training of an A-team against incredible odds, and visuals such as horsemen cresting the horizon of a hill. Quentin Tarantino can take me away from this world of dust with the enthralling story, dialogue, and fight scenes in “Kill Bill”. “The Matrix” series has a strong foundation in martial arts, yet its special effects, concepts, and the science fiction world it creates make it a great crossover choice, although the high concept on the meaning of the universe does fizzle out a bit by “Matrix Revolutions”.

Sci-Fi movies are great for deployment because they produce bigger and badder villains to defeat. The “Alien” has had many a troop rooting for Sigourney Weaver to kick some alien butt, especially in “Aliens” with the military landing party. “AVP” brings together two great deployment movie syndicates by pitting the aliens against the “Predator”, cool for gadgets that I’m sure will be part of our future force arsenal. Harrison Ford is king of good deployment fare since we all would want to be Han Solo in the “Star Wars” movies, and he was cool incarnate as Decker in “Blade Runner”. In “The Fifth Element” director Luc Besson couples Bruce Willis with sexy Milla Jojovich and you can branch from each of these individuals to other key deployment films. Horror films can make for good deployment fare if they move fast and it doesn’t hurt to have a voluptuous leading lady like Salma Hayek in the gun-heavy vampire-fest “From Dusk to Dawn.”

A great source of heroes and stories for deployment are western movies. First and foremost must be the Sergio Leone “A Fistful of Dollars” spaghetti western series. Clint Eastwood as the man with no name is strong, silent, and unpredictable. You never know when he is going to turn on his compadres or ride back into town. A bizarre addition to the group is “You Better Duck, Sucker”, also known as “A Fistful of Dynamite” which pairs an Irish terrorist and a Mexican bandit in the aid of a populist revolution. Robert Rodriguez has brought the man with no name to a new stylish level, though he is a bit more altruistic in the “El Mariachi” trilogy.

Another action genre that provides good distraction is spy movies. Of course the classics are the James Bond movies. I think that history has proved that there is no Bond better than Sean Connery, and basically any movie he is in is a good on deployment. A great update of the spy movie is the “Bourne Identity” series with Matt Damon’s renegade search for the bad guys and his memory. The “Mission Impossible” movies are a little too slick for us troops to completely identify with Tom Cruise as he effortlessly jet sets around the globe.

The next great collection of movies that that get us through deployment are comedies. We are not talking romantic comedy here; I mean sloppy slapstick lowbrow comedy. In fact, “The Three Stooges” are great deployment fare, and I’m going to have to make sure I secure the collection we have in the Swamp for New Year’s Eve. The best modern inheritor of this tradition is the Farrelly Brothers, with “Something About Mary” being a great demonstration of the ability to push past the limits of taste to hilarity. “Shallow Hal” does a great job of illustrating the irony of inner beauty and also includes the mayhem of Jack Black, a deployment movie hero. I’d ignore a mortar attack to continue laughing through “Dumb and Dumber”. Of course classics like “Animal House” will always deliver and I think the hospital group before us actually had a toga party. What the heck, we have enough sheets. Bill Murray rules in “Caddyshack”, and not just because he is a Viet Nam veteran. In “Stripes” he gives the Man the treatment that we all wish we could. And if I haven’t told you yet, let me say it now clearly, deployment is and always will be “Groundhog Day.”

The last films I’ll mention are our personal favorites. Each of us has a favorite film in our heart that will bring us back to home and the ones we love. I can’t wait until I watch “Moonstruck” again with the right person. The film might be a family tradition, or a holiday special. Some celebrate Christmas with “It’s a Wonderful Life” and others favor the new classic “A Christmas Story”. A favorite movie might bring back a first date, or raucous nights with high school friends or fraternity brothers. Favorite films not only distract us from grind of life over here, but also take us on a brief journey of longing and love for that somewhere else we would rather be.

Top 10 Deployment Leading Men: So many to mention here, that it seems there should be an honorable mention, at least for the comedy heroes. We wish we could be as cool and tough as these guys.

    1. Tom Hanks
    2. Sean Connery
    3. John Wayne
    4. Harrison Ford
    5. Bruce Willis
    6. Bill Murray
    7. Matt Damon
    8. Clint Eastwood
    9. Steven Segal
    10. Wesley Snipes

Top 10 Deployment Leading Ladies: We like leading ladies hot, but these women can also give a beating, even after they have taken a beating.

    1. Uma Thurman
    2. Sigourney Weaver
    3. Natalie Portman
    4. Milla Jojovich
    5. Jennifer Garner
    6. Lucy Liu
    7. Linda Hamilton
    8. Selma Hayek
    9. Darryl Hannah
    10. Drew Barrymore

Top 10 Deployment Directors: Of course incomplete, but these directors know how to deliver a heart pounding dose of action and occasional sex appeal.

    1. Stanley Kubrick
    2. Sergio Leone
    3. Akira Kurasawa
    4. Quentin Tarantino
    5. Francis Ford Coppola
    6. John McTiernan
    7. Mario Van Peebles
    8. The Farrelly Brothers
    9. Robert Rodriguez
    10. Luc Besson

Top 10 deployment movies: I know there will be major disagreement here. Well guess what, you can write your own dang blog! Aw, c’mon back, I didn’t mean it. You can comment here or email the one you think I’ve left off.

    1. Full Metal Jacket
    2. Saving Private Ryan
    3. Groundhog Day
    4. A Fistful of Dollars
    5. The Seven Samurai
    6. Die Hard
    7. Apocalypse Now
    8. The Matrix
    9. Cool Hand Luke
    10. Caddyshack


lainy said...

It sure seems to me you covered them all. The only holiday movie and comedy I like that I didn't read on your list, and feel would be a good one, is Home Alone.

I'm no movie buff, but I can see why all of you would be.

The Three Stooges are so funny. Love em lots.

Have a good day, Chris.

Val said...

This is great!!!! It will help with care packages for folks I know too. :)

ChefSara said...

I can think of a few that should be mentioned...Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men In Black (comedy and sci-fi all in one). Not that I've ever been deployed, but that movie cracks me up every time!

Anonymous said...

You left off one of the greatest movies - "The Deerhunter"

Neil said...

Hey Doc,
I know of ECMO from my former life as a sonographer. (Gotta make sure those little brains stay happy)
Also my wife is a NICU RN, but our community hospital transfers out the sickies.
Love your blog, stay safe!
Neil in South Florida (PACS Administrator)

Chris said...

Love the additions!

Also heard from from friends:

Wizard of Oz
Unbearable lightness of being

Just giving me more ideas on how to sedate myself til I get home!


radcaligirl said...

Full Metal Jacket blew me away as did Saving Private Ryan. I may have to rent some of the others.