This gruesome scene in Saving Private Ryan contains little to no dialogue, however, its political and cultural sentiments are extremely heavy-handed. During this scene, we jump from multiple perspectives including a one-on-one fight to death, a man in the throes of combat, and a man crippled by fear. I find this scene highly cynical in all of its components.
To begin with, the man in combat is character Sgt. Horvath. He is rational, tough, but also deeply feels the pain of the war he is are fighting. Throughout the film his character is an impermeable figure of wisdom and experience who connects with the men in his unit. In this scene, we experience high-intensity moments before he is shot. His shooting is very cynical as a story element and also in the scene’s execution. Seeing this character shot is a painful moment for viewers because of the “relationship” that is formed with him throughout the film. However the way in which he is shot is the truly cynical element of this particular moment. Rather than seeing Horvath lose to the man he is fighting, we see him gun down his opponent after a nerve-wracking few seconds. Just as we breathe a sigh of relief, Horvath is gunned down by an off-screen character. Despite his best efforts and momentary victory, he is still shot – and by a faceless soldier who we know nothing about. This choice to leave his shooter off screen gives the scene much more of an ominous and disheartening power.
The fight between character Stanley Mellish and the Nazi soldier bares much more of a political metaphor. Mellish, a character who is with us throughout the movie, is a young Jewish-American private who has deep emotional investment in the war. We see the anti-semitism of World War II bleed into his life during the film and are fully aware of the weight it has on him. In this scene, Mellish is waiting for another character, Timothy Upham, to refill his ammunition. While Upham is gone, Mellish is left practically defenseless and encounters a Nazi soldier. The two engage in what is probably the most intimately violent scene in the film. As they fight, Upham returns with the ammunition but does not enter the room to help his friend and fellow soldier. Upham sits quietly and does nothing while he hears his friend slowly dying. This scene is a cinematic reflection of the United States’ initial reluctance to engage in World War II despite the mass genocide that had already begun. This scene makes the film’s thoughts on this choice by US government explicitly clear.
This film is not rigid in its cynicism as an overall theme of the movie, however, it is not forgiving in its dark moments. The cynicism towards the choices of the US government and the severity of war on soldiers is extremely powerful and present in Saving Private Ryan.