Article by Molly Blake, Marine Corps Spouse
Ah, the volleyball scene. The shirtless, tanned and toned bod of a much younger (and less Scientology-y) Tom Cruise still revs up the engines of women everywhere, while the adrenaline pumping aerial dogfights are arguably one of naval aviation’s most successful recruiting campaigns.
While the 1986 film “Top Gun” received a so-so review in the New York Times, lines like “I feel the need, the need for speed” flew Mach 1 into pop culture lore to the tune of $354 million.
But long before Maverick and Goose introduced civilians to call signs and carrier landings, films like “Platoon,” and “Kelly’s Heroes” chronicled the bloody reality of WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and Korean War battles.
More recently, “The Hurt Locker” -the story of a U.S. bomb disposal team in Iraq-earned three Academy Awards and opened the public’s eyes to the grim, upclose combat warfare facing modern service members.
Where Are the Spouses?
Evangeline Lilly’s limited scenes in “The Hurt Locker” showed her in the kitchen cooking or in the grocery store. Three other relatively recent war movies (“Black Hawk Down,” “Three Kings” and “Jarhead”) left spouses’ lives largely on the editing room floor. Save for lesser-known documentaries, military spouses are framed for the most part in convenient and rather conventional terms.
“They never show the spouse repairing a major home appliance,” said Devra Renner,
an author and Air Force spouse who counts “Saving Private Ryan” and “We Were Soldiers” among her favorite war films. “We are not overwhelmed all the time.”
If military spouses are not making casseroles, allegorically speaking, then these impossibly flawless fictional women are caught up in a fairy-tale romance with a wildly attractive soldier or Marine. Think “Dear John,” and “The Lucky One.” Where are the real spouses? You know, the real nurses, lawyers, doctors and teachers who have endured 11 years of war? And why hasn’t Hollywood come up with a film that accurately depicts today’s military spouses like Cameron Allison, an entrepreneur and small business owner, who auspiciously
juggles work and family life.
Jane Boursaw, a syndicated film critic, has a theory:
“People don’t watch those kinds of movies for reality,” explains Boursaw. “They watch hoping that Richard Gere walks through a factory and symbolically carries them out of there!”
Who Are These Fictional People?
This notion that military marriages are all melodramatic passion or heart-pounding death notifications is problematic for Amanda Fox. She’s an active duty Navy Aeromedical Safety Officer and friends with several military spouses who, she says, are portrayed in movies as “stereotypical and weak.”
“It’s so not the case,” Fox says about America’s real military spouses. And yet she isn’t surprised to see movies offer up the depictions they do. “I guess it sells,” she says.
What else are Hollywood movies about military couples lacking? “It would be helpful,” says Renner, “if Hollywood depicted the diversity.”
Fox agrees that it’s time for filmmakers to discover the truth about military marriages, rather than sticking with conventional depictions. “If producers are going to make a realistic movie, then they owe the community the time and respect to find out what’s real,” says Fox.
It turns out that the cable network Lifetime does get it right, according to Marine spouse Diana Phillips. Despite the “ridiculous dramatic situations” that can pop up on the show, Phillips watches “Army Wives” religiously. “It accurately shows the different dynamics between couples,” she says.
For better or worse, added Renner, it’s important to remember one important fact: “It is just a movie.”
Navy (and Coastie!) brat and syndicated film critic Jane Boursaw shares her insider scoop on military movies.
Q: Name your top five favorite military movies.
A: Hard to choose, but here are the first five that spring to mind:
• A Few Good Men
• Where Soldiers Come From
• From Here to Eternity
• Independence Day
• War Horse
Q: How do you think military spouses are generally portrayed/ characterized in more
recent military films? (for example: The wife in “The Hurt Locker”? Or the women in “We Were Soldiers”?)
A: I think they’re starting to get it right, probably because of documentaries like Heather Courtney’s wonderful “Where Soldiers Come From.” We get to see first-hand how military wives and girlfriends deal with men going off to war, and that translates over to feature films.
Q: Military spouses today are educated, smart and many of us have exceptional careers- yet military films always seem to pigeonhole us in the kitchen (literally), living in base housing (not all families live on-base) and waiting for our men to come home? Why is this?
A: Maybe a sense of nostalgia? Though if you think back to WWII, the women took over the jobs here at home while the men were at war. Even in “Gone With the Wind,” Scarlett O’Hara had to buck up and try to save Tara, and in Mrs. Miniver, Greer Garson had to dodge bombs, hide out in a bunker and be brave while the men were at war. I would hope that when people look back through cinematic history, they’ll remember these strong women in film, who did their part in their own way.
Q: Do filmmakers ever consult with military spouses about the reality of our lives?
A: Most of the filmmakers I’ve talked to absolutely go straight to the source for the real story. That’s because they know moviegoers are smart and know when something doesn’t feel authentic. So the best filmmakers will definitely go that extra mile to make sure the characters are based in reality
Check out more from Jane at www.reellifewithjane.com.
For more great content, check out a subscription to Military Spouse magazine. https://subscribe.milspouse.com/subscribe/default.aspx