Flags of Our Fathers & Letters From Iwo Jima – Blurring the Line with Clint Eastwood

By Barath S (L&T RBG)

Clint Eastwood made a unique contribution to film history, by being the first director to make two films about the same event. Eastwood’s films examine the World War II battle over Iwo Jima where the US went in, expecting to take over the island in four days, but the grim reality was a month of struggle that cost 6,000 US and 22,000 Japanese lives.

Clint Eastwood has made two movies of the same subject but different perspective of the characters. He has broken all the leads of the traditional jingoist war movie genre and produced two excellent films, from two nations’ perspectives, in two languages – one in English: Flag of Our Fathers, another in Japanese: Letters from Iwo Jima, and embody a passionate view on conflict, enemies, and heroes. Together these works tell the story behind one of history’s most famous and iconic photographs, Leo Rosenthal’s “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.”

These two films are complementary in nature, as they offer different perspectives on the same event. The depiction through two movies of each side of the war gives a more complete picture of what occurred at Iwo Jima, and Eastwood’s temporally linked release of the two films emphasizes their connection.

The Flags version of Iwo Jima, accordingly, presented in disjunctive pieces and viewed from various angles and perceptions—from the viewpoints of individuals, friends, the military, the national public, the families, and history—is a narrative without the possibility of a unifying vision. Contrarily, Letters from Iwo Jima reveals events primarily based on the letters of three soldiers writing their loved ones back home and other unmailed letters later discovered buried on the island, and for that reason presents a much more intimate portrait of military men, many of whom knew they were doomed to die in the battle.

Both films travel back and forth in time and space between Iwo Jima and the homelands of the combatants. In “Flags of Our Fathers” the battle itself happens mainly in flashback, since the movie is in large measure about the guilt and confusion that survivors encountered upon their reluctant return home. In “Letters From Iwo Jima” the battle is in the present tense, and it is home that flickers occasionally in the memories of men who are certain they will not live to see it again.

Clint Eastwood’s deferential stance reminds us that cinema, like history, can often be a matter of perspective.

It is up to us, not just the films, to determine the perspective, as well as our history and our heroes.

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