Gods and Generals (2003)
Director: Ronald F. Maxwell
Starring: Stephen Lang (Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson), Robert Duvall (Gen. Robert E. Lee), Jeff Daniels (Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain), C. Thomas Howell (Sgt. Thomas Chamberlain), Kevin Conway (Sgt. "Buster" Kilrain), Patrick Gorman (Texas Gen. John Bell Hood), Brian Mallon (Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock).
I have not seen the movie as of yet, but already I don't care for it. Or maybe it would be better to say that I don't care for the reviews. It's just discouraging to read some of the reviews where the critics seem to have no clear understanding or appreciation of the struggle to end slavery in the nation. Many seem to be conflicted by the war and that bothers me.
They say the movie is a prequel to the movie "Gettysburg". It is mostly about the Civil War battles in which Stone Wall Jackson was involved.
Just as one example, the review in the student newspaper The Ram of Fordham University, called General Thomas Jackson a hero in the Shakespeare's tragic sense. The reviewer gets the definition of hero mixed up here with tragedy, because in a tragedy there is a person of noble character (not a hero) with a fatal flaw that breaks their fall. Noble character means only that they have some characteristics that put them above their more average countrymen.
Stonewall Jackson was a very strange man. Once we visited his home in Lexington, Virginia and learned more about this man with the ritualist and compulsive personality. One of the things I most remembered was that he would write out all his lectures standing up and then also practice them while standing up. He went into battle with one arm raised over his head so he could balance the "humours" in his body. In battle Jackson tended to lose moral perspective, becoming almost psychopathic. At a bridge during the Battle of Fredricksburg a Confederate soldier came up to him and asked him something to the effect "General. How are we going to get these men to stop shooting us?" Jackson's reply was to the effect "Kill them! Kill them all!" In fact, Jackson got himself killed by being too greedy for blood (his tragic flaw); he wanted to pursue and kill more northern soldiers in spite of the oncoming darkness. He wanted to mount a nighttime attack and in this pursuit he went ahead of his own troops to scout the area. He was shot by his own men while coming back from that exploration trip. Now if you think such a man is a hero, one has to wonder about your moral compass.
The film feebly tries to be "fair and balanced" (like the conservative Fox News Network saying) by also portraying a northerner -- the real hero, Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was to drape himself in glory preventing the Confederates from occupying Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, but he was never a man who was so greedy for the death of his enemy that he would pursue them into the darkness of night.
The United States periodically produces literary or film efforts justifying or excusing our racist heritage. In film the most famous example was "The Birth of a Nation". The present film under review, produced by southerner Ted Turner, seems to share some of that tradition. It is in that same spirit of being an apology for racism and slavery.
The film is almost "unpatriotic." Does any one know of any WWII film produced by an American that glorifies a Japanese victory over Americans and the glory and honor of the Japanese leaders? No, because it would be a betrayal. I regard this film in much the same way. I do not care for movies that portray the Confederates (the supporters of racism, slavery, and civil war) winning victories over the North. If you like them, you probably are a good ol' boy or just a plain redneck.
O.k. now I have seen the movie. It's worse than I thought it would be. The movie is really about General Stonewall Jackson. Maybe it should have been called "God and General Stonewall Jackson." But who the hell wants Gen. Jackson as their hero, except for Southerners still committed to their old customs and ideas? The movie is way too religious with constants quotations from the Bible. Today, we would call Jackson a "religious nut." The South had a lot of evil in it and they needed their religion to justify slavery and to forgive them for being the defenders of slavery.
The movie is also sickeningly sentimental to the point of being embarrassing. Look, Gen. Jackson loves little girls and he loves the Lord and he's really a sweet guy. It's as if they are trying to say, hey if we can get the rest of world to see how wonderful our Gen. Jackson is, maybe they would be more accepting of our past and present investments in slavery, apartheid and massive resistance in the "red" states. But I for one will never be fooled. To me, rooting for Jackson would be like rooting for Hitler, Mussolini or Tojo.
The movie uses a lot of recurring justifications for the cause of the Southerners. They see the South as a victim: they refer to the North as the aggressor; compare the South to the Apaches fighting for their homeland; say that the war is the South's "Second War for Independence;" constantly wraps the Southern cause in flattering Biblical quotations; and has a line that the bravery of the Northern soldiers is worthy of a better cause. The sons of the South sure spend a lot of time providing justifications for the beliefs and actions of their forefathers.
I guess the South is still unrepentant about its commitment to racial inequality and injustice. In D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation the director put in all those ridiculous excuses and justifications for the South's slavery that he heard from every Southern civil war veteran and politician. He had not a clue that the film was racist and a lie. I think the producers and writers of this movie are of the same ilk. They haven't a clue why their movie borders on being immoral.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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