Historical Accuracies and Inaccuracies of Saving Private Ryan Essay

World War II is probably considered one of the most violent and horrific wars in modern history. There have been many reenactments of this historical moment in Hollywood. One movie that portrayed events significantly during World War II is Saving Private Ryan by Steven Spielberg. Even though Saving Private Ryan is critically acclaimed for its realistic battle scenes and won multiple academy awards for its cinematic display and accuracy of events, there are still many inaccuracies throughout the movie as well.

This film can be considered one of the greatest war movies of all time, but even some of the greatest reenactments can be inaccurate at times relating to history. The movie is about a group of troops on a mission to find another soldier in the name of Ryan so they can bring him back home to his mother. The reason they had to bring him back is because he had three older brothers already in war, but unfortunately were killed during battle. This resulted in the effort to try to find Ryan to bring him back home to his mother because he was the youngest, and to avoid all brothers being killed.

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During this journey to retrieve Ryan many troops were killed along the way, but at the end the troops finally found Ryan and brought him back home. During the journey, the movie reenacts historical moments such D-day. For example, the beginning of Saving Private Ryan starts at the battle of Normandy. One thing that caught my attention was the amazing cinematography of the battle scene. I have never been in a war nor experienced any of the horrors first hand, but after watching the first scene, it impacted me in such a way that I actually felt as if I was part of war scene.

It seemed so real. The gruesome deaths which include limbs and body parts flying all over the place to go along with a shaky first person camera view with a 1940’s grainy look for its cinematography made me feel as if I was on the battle field of D-day. After watching the movie, I was left in awe and was curious to find more answers in terms of the accuracy in the movie. In the D-day scene, the movie was extremely accurate when it came to the death and reality of war.

For example, Private Henry Basey, who was one of the few black soldiers that actually took part in the invasion, explains “what I remember was Pure D Hell…there were guys falling all around me, hollering, and there was no one to help them. I didn’t think I’d live through it myself. [1] So many lives were lost during this horrific war. It is mind boggling to even fathom myself involved in such bloodshed. Even though the movie was extremely graphic at times, director Steven Spielberg displayed empathy in American soldiers towards the opposition. During the movie, the troops captured a German soldier by his lonesome.

Instead of killing him on sight or holding him captive, the main character captain Miller decides to free him even though there was a possibility the captive would soon find another unit to fight back. This action displays a lot of humility and empathy and showcases how some American soldiers actually showed mercy and compassion, even to the enemy. John Bodnar, a historian states “ironically, while the Spielberg film reveals the brutality of war, it preserves the World War II image of American soldiers as inherently adverse to bloodshed and cruelty[2].

In the very beginning of the movie, it showed the American soldiers in pure silence on ships preparing for probably one of the most historical battles of our time. You can feel the nervousness as well as the anticipation of these men before approaching land. As soon as they approach land and the ship doors open for the troops to get out, the Germans start firing bullets immediately. I felt as if the Americans were caught off guard. After watching this scene, I was curious to know if D-day started out like this.

According to Harold Baumgarten, a member of the 29th Infantry Division who was one of the soldiers that survived the battle of D-day explains, “The lowering of the ramp [of the boat] was like a signal for every German machine gun to open up on the exit from our boat[3]. The way director Steven Spielberg brought this scene to life by expressing the feelings of the nervous but prepared American soldiers prior to battle spoke volumes. Nobody says a word during this scene. The expression on the troop’s faces spoke volumes of how apprehensive they were feeling.

Suddenly, a huge explosion erupts as soon as American troops open their ship gates. German troops are firing bullets rapidly not giving a chance to the Americans to react quickly; however, the Americans do regain position to fight back. The scene is powerful because the start of the actual battle hits you out of nowhere and takes you through the battle of D-day immediately, filled with non-stop action. The D-day scene was precisely accurate when it came to the horrors of the actual battle.

Even though the movie was accurate in many cases, it still had some inaccuracies from time to time. For example, in terms of characters, Private Ryan wasn’t his actual name. Even though Private Ryan was not real, there was a soldier named Frederick “Fritz” Niland from the 101st Airborne Division, who Private Ryan was modeled after[4]. Niland had three of his brothers that were all killed in World War II just like the character Private Ryan, two at Utah Beach and one in Burma. Unfortunately, his mother received all three death notifications at once.

They had no choice but to retrieve him especially because he was the youngest of his four brothers[5]. In the movie, the whole story line is to find Private Ryan and return him home. The soldiers go through multiple battles and hardships to accomplish this goal. As you watch the movie, you become attached to the storyline to find Ryan. You feel as if your one of the soldiers going through obstacles to find one of your brothers. It feels like you are a part of an emotional roller-coaster type of journey which attaches you to the story even more; however, history tells us otherwise.

There is no record of a rescue mission in search of Fritz Niland, but he was sent home to the United States from the combat zone[6]. Even though the movie said it was based on a true story, the storyline was completely Hollywood. Strictly for entertainment purposes. Another inaccuracy about the movie is the times of when the American troops battled or when they operated. For instance, the movie portrayed American troops traveling or battling during the day. That never happened. During World War II, American soldiers never traveled or fought during daylight.

Doing so would make it easier to be spotted by the opposition[7]. Also, little things such as the portrayal of soldiers in battle scenes without buckling their helmet shows that even the most critically acclaim reenactments could have unrealistic flaws. Going to war without properly protecting yourself by unbuckling your helmet is extremely hazardous, irrational and simply unrealistic[8]. After watching all of Saving Private Ryan, I realized how much of a masterpiece this is. It reached my expectations in terms of entertainment, action, drama, and bits and pieces of comedy here and there.

While researching how accurate the story was in relation to history, I came to the conclusion that Saving Private Ryan is historically accurate when it comes to the battle of D-day, tactics used by the opposition, location of where it takes place, and overall 1940’s vibe (weaponry, ships, and clothes). On the other hand, one inaccuracy of the movie is the story line. Instead of saying it is based on a true story, it is best to say it is inspired by one. Although the events taken place in the movie may be accurate, the actual storyline of trying to rescue someone is just for entertainment purposes, not history.

Other inaccuracies include the time of day they battled or operated their next destination as well as the way they used their equipment while in battle. Other than that, I believe Saving Private Ryan is a great movie that reenacts history in a great way. Past veterans that actually experienced D-day can even say it is predominately accurate; however it may carry some inaccuracies. Overall, I recommend this movie to anyone, especially if there interested in historical moments such World War II.