Band of Brothers: ‘Bastogne’

Posted: November 28, 2011 in Cinema, Politics, Television
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A few weeks back I purchased the combined box set edition of Band of Brothers and The Pacific. This week I finally got round to rewatching the first series and I’m just as blown away now as when I first saw it!

I’ve played far too many war games in my time, especially FPSs, and I’ve noticed that generally two things seem to unite them. Firstly is the feeling of being superhuman, that somehow a few choice individuals manage to completely transform the outcome of war. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, you are never made to feel any kind of compassion for anyone. Characters are always treated with such superficiality.

Playable protagonists are often made to be ‘everyman’ figures in the hope that the user will somehow assimilate some kind of connection to them, beyond the inevitable ‘I’m controlling you, looking from your visual perspective, so I must be feeling what you are! Look, I can’t see my own face, but there are my arms flailing whilst I melee or reload. Wow, if I look down I can see my shoes…’ Conversely though, in making the protagonists such blank canvases they simply serve to restrict any kind of connection to them. Inevitably, players cannot sufficiently become the in game character; each protagonist has their own name, social background and reason for having some involvement in the war ensuring that it is actually impossible to assimilate their position. Instead, if these individuals were characterised more successfully, with particular personality traits and moral reasoning, then perhaps gamers could actually find some level of connection to their own personality, thereby assuming a vicarious role in their quest.

Furthermore, supporting characters are also treated with the same superficiality. Generally they fit into four categories:

1. The stereotypical ‘Let’s fuck this shit up!’ bloke.

2. The timid, unassuming coward, who inevitably comes good.

3. The moustachioed leader.

4. The disillusioned, ‘Why are we fighting this stupid war blah blah blah’, protester.

Eugene searches for supplies amidst the snow of Bastogne.

Of course this is a somewhat crude list, but I defy you to find a character that doesn’t fit into one of these categories to some extent. Supporting characters are supplied with such miniscule character development that their fate becomes completely inconsequential. I’ve never cared if any of my comrades have died when gaming. Fuck it, I’d nade them myself if the game would let me continue afterwards.

That is why I adore Band of Brothers so much. Finally I have been made to care about the plight of these soldiers. Each individual has their own particular character traits which are sustained and developed as the series progresses, enhanced powerfully by the fact that they are based on real men. Each character demands a different response: Bill ‘Gonorrhea’ Guarnere is a boss (a baows); strong, loyal with a De Niro accent that warns you not to fuck with him. Although he did walk like John Wayne after his leg was wounded rescuing Joe Toye. You feel awful for Malarkey after the tragedy of Bastogne, but welcome his new found authority and confidence as a direct result of it. I genuinely felt contempt for Captain Sobel, and not just because he was played by greasy whiner David Schwimmer – although it could not have helped! “We salute the rank, not the man.” God that made me smile. There is genuine sorrow to be felt when the characters you have familiarised yourself with are wounded or die.

Isolated, alone.

From Currahee to Berchtesgarden, the whole series has kept me totally engrossed, but no part more than episode 6, ‘Bastogne’. The reason for this is its primary focus, not on the seemingly insurmountable plight of a struggling Easy Company trying to defend the line in the forests of Bastogne, but on the harrowing experiences of medics. Although you are very much made aware of the offensive endeavours of Easy, now in limited number with minimal ammunition, rations and no winter clothes, the key dramatic sequences all really relate to the toil of a medic, Eugene Roe. The reason this really struck a chord with me is that you rarely obtain this perspective. Typically medics are peripheral characters, despite how vital they are for a Company’s success. Never will you see them as a significant character in single player campaigns (it’s only in Battlefield’s multiplayer that they come into their own).

‘Bastogne’ was a fantastic insight into the moral dilemmas of a medic during war time. You observe the continual danger they are forced to put themselves in, alongside the damaging emotional impact of seeing so many soldiers wounded and dying at medical stations. Most significantly, you are exposed to their feelings of being subsidiary. I got the impression that Eugene feels less significant to the war effort than his comrades armed with rifles, regardless of the fact that often he is in a more volatile position than they are, dashing around, dodging mortar blasts to heal the wounded. Some of his looks, his empty stares reveal an inner turmoil suggestive of insecurity and worthlessness. These looks also clearly relate to his role as saviour; more than the directing officers and the offensive armed units, he becomes responsible for the lives around him. In the blink of an eye, his actions dictate whether an individual lives of dies. This feeling is horribly intense, made all the worse by the lack of medical supplies (for half the episode Eugene is desperately searching for a a pair of scissors – should have gone to Woolworths!) Furthermore, you are made explicitly aware of the loneliness that being a medic carries with it. Throughout the episode Eugene’s only significant relationship is with another medic. Beyond that he only really finds solace in a French nurse, Renee, with whom he clearly shares an emotional connection via their chosen professions. Both are isolated, lost in their own worlds, and seem to connect on an almost romantic level, purely because of the daily horrors they are subjected to.

Eugene finds solace in a French nurse.

Undoubtedly this episode had the greatest emotional impact on me, highlighting Eugene Roe as one of the most valuable members of Easy Company. Time to play BF3. Think I’ll choose a medic class at last…

I’ll leave you with a song:

“No one’s slick as Bastogne. No one’s quick as Bastogne. No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Bastogne’s.” Pretty sure that’s how it went right? Ok, I’ll leave with an actual tribute:

“Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain’t gonna jump no more!

The risers wrapped around his neck, connectors cracked his dome,
Suspension lines were tied in knots around his skinny bones;
The canopy became his shroud; he hurtled to the ground.
He ain’t gonna jump no more.

Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain’t gonna jump no more!”

He hit the ground, the sound was “Splat!”, his blood went spurting high,
His comrades then were heard to say: “A hell of a way to die!”
He lay there rolling round in the welter of his gore,
He ain’t gonna jump no more.

Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain’t gonna jump no more!”

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