I started on this topic the other day.
If you have never seen this movie, expect to have your heart torn out. This is the kind of writing every author should aspire to.
You are introduced to Major Whittlesey in the opening scenes of the movie, and you right away know who and what he is.
You are introduced to two characters from New York, and the way they explain battlefield hazards for the new soldiers tells you EVERYTHING about them.
You know all about Private Yoder from the beginning. You know about Private Lapastie too. You get a glimpse of Krotoschevski, and it hints at greatness.
You understand Major Prinz. you understand General Alexander.
you understand Private Chen, and agonize with him. He’s been ordered to stay behind alone, and you see from his face he knows he’s going to die – yet he stays at his post anyway.
And the characters develop. One of the single greatest movie scenes of all times goes to Private Krotoschevski, with the “I took the test” speech to Private Lapastie. See if it doesn’t make your heart swell with pride! Can YOU write a speech like that?
The friendship between Private Lapastie and Yoder, which at first almost ended up in blows, is astounding. Try to write something like that!
And if you can create a character like Major Charles Whittlesey, you deserve an income rivaling that of any best selling author. Rick Schroeder’s portrayal of Whittlesey deserved awards.
Watching this movie should be required for all writers. The scene where Private Rosen slowly hands a dog tag to Major Whittlesey, who reluctantly accepts it… you should study every second of it. Put it on frame by frame, and FORCE yourself to describe it.
“Rosen stops in front of Whittlesey, tears slowly running down his grimy face. He hesitantly extends his arm, soaked with the blood of his best friend, the encrusted dog tag suspended from his weary fingers. His face becomes set, the slight nod telling Whittelsey everytihng the Major was dreading.”
“Whittelsey, the agony on his face, slowly reaches for the dog tag. The look that passes between them speaks loudly. No word is spoken. none was needed. In that understanding glance, Rosen saw the agony in Whittlesey’s face, the tears beginning to cut through the soot on the Major’s face. For every dog tag in the Major’s hands, he was inwardly dying a thousand deaths.”
“In that moment, Rosen saw who the Major was. And he vowed to himself that if the Major at that moment ordered them all to march to Berlin and hunt down Kaiser Wilhelm and make him pay for this war, make him pay for the deaths of so many fine men… Rosen would not hesitate. He would follow Whittelsey to the grave. It was the same thought he’d though a dozen times in the last four days. ‘I will follow this man, not for duty’s sake. But because he cares.'”
“Whittelsey binds the dog tag to the too-large bundle in his hand. He can put a face to every dog tag. He can recall a conversation with every man who’d had it. He can recall a moment of valor from every one of them And the knowledge haunts Whittelsey. ‘These men are dead because I ordered them to be here.’ Whittelsey, unable to bear it a moment longer, looks down, his chin trembling. ‘These men are better than me.’ He thinks again, for the hundredth time that day.”
“He will never be able to sleep well again. He glances at Captain McMurty and nods. No words need to be said. McMurty nods, and looks away. He is changed by working with Whittlesey. He now is overcome by the knowledge of how great these men who’ve died at their orders were.”
If you’re a writer, watch this movie a dozen times. Force yourself to novel-ize parts of it. the first watching of this movie is traumatic. If you do not cry at least once, you are probably a sociopath. Trust me when I say, literally, this movie should be required watching for every would-be author.