[[quoteright:350:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/thin_red_line1_4279.jpg]]
[[caption-width-right:350:"[[WhatYouAreInTheDark Every man fights his own war]]."]]

-> "''[[NotSoDifferent Maybe all men got one big soul everybody's a part of, all faces are the same man]].''"
-->-- '''Private Witt'''

'''''The Thin Red Line''''' is a famous book about the battle of [[WorldWarII Guadalcanal]] by author JamesJones. It is a philosophical work about the internal and external battles the various soldiers go through.

It was made into [[TheFilmOfTheBook a movie]] twice, in 1964 and 1998. The more famous of the two adaptations (the 1998 one) was created by legendary reclusive auteur filmmaker Creator/TerrenceMalick, whose films specialize in deep [[MindScrew philosophizing]], sumptuous [[SceneryPorn nature photography]], and internal dialogue by multiple characters. Malick used the film to expound on the idea that "all men have got the same soul" and are part of nature, therefore warfare is just an example of mankind fighting against himself.

The film features LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters (still more in the book) who each have their own perspectives on the battle raging around them, although most of the characters seem to be surprisingly thoughtful and articulate in their internal monologues, despite (or perhaps because) the ever present [[AnyoneCanDie threat of impending death]].

The film is also notable for being pitted against ''SavingPrivateRyan'' both at the time it came out [[DuelingMovies and ever since]], with the two (very different) war films being (perhaps unfairly) compared to each other and various film critics [[BrokenBase taking sides]]. This is owing to the fact that [[LoveItOrHateIt it depends on what kind of war movie you are looking to see]].

Both movies are visceral, but ''Saving Private Ryan'' would probably be described as "action packed" and expounding the attitude that "war is hell, but sometimes necessary and we will never understand what the Greatest Generation went through." (It could even be said to have popularized this nostalgic approach to WWII.) Whereas ''The Thin Red Line'' would probably be described as "philosophical" and immersive, expounding the philosophy that men don't really know why they fight because they are part of nature, and make excuses for their violent nature.

Please note that this article is first and foremost about the 1998 film; examples exclusive to the novel or the 1964 adaptation will be noted as such.

See also ''Literature/FromHereToEternity'', also by James Jones.

[[IThoughtItMeant DEFINITELY not to be confused with]] ''Series/TheThinBlueLine''.
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!!This work contains examples of:

* AbsenceMakesTheHeartGoYonder: A truly crushing example with [[spoiler:Bell and his wife]].
* AdaptationalHeroism: Witt. The film elevates his altruism (already evident in the book) to near-messianic proportions, and does away with his eminent character flaws, such as his racism and his [[HairTriggerTemper highly volatile temper]]. He also gets a [[spoiler:HeroicSacrifice]] at the end.
* AdaptationNameChange: Capt. James "Bugger" Stein becomes Capt. James "Bugger" Staros (Elias Koteas). His ethnicity is also changed from Jewish American to Greek American, making this a case of ActorSharedBackground.
* AdaptedOut: several important characters do not make it into the cast of the movie.
* AmbitionIsEvil: in the 1998 film, the antagonistic LTC Tall is unconcerned with the losses in the battle because a successful attack is his last chance at a promotion. In the book, the nearly-amoral Dale is motivated by his desire to become a sergeant.
* AnAesop: Or rather, thought-provoking questions. The central themes of the movie seem to be: "Is war an inevitable part of human civilization or not? Is war [[WarIsHell just a nonsensical tragedy]] or does it have [[WarIsGlorious some bright side as well?]] Does nature suffer from war at least as much as humans?" The answer is up to you, dear tropers...
** Private Train invokes this in one of his [[InnerMonologue inner monologues]]:
--->This great evil, where does it come from?
--->How'd it steal into the world?
--->What seed, what root did it grow from?
--->Who's doin' this? Who's killin' us, robbing us of life and light?
--->Mockin' us with the sight of what we might've known.
--->Does our ruin benefit the earth?
--->Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine?
--->Is this darkness in you, too?
--->Have you passed to this night?
* AFatherToHisMen: Capt. Staros is specifically [[InvokedTrope described]] as this.
--> '''Staros:''' You're like my sons. (...) You ''are'' my sons.
* TheAlcoholic / FunctionalAddict: Welsh is an alcoholic even by the standards of C Company (e.g. he's the only person who opts to keep gin rather than water in his hip flasks), yet still makes a competent First Sergeant.
* AmericaWinsTheWar: Oh so averted. There is nearly no PatrioticFervor shown in the movie, not even of the "positive, honest and cheerful" variety. The movie tries hard to avert DoNotDoThisCoolThing and focuses more on the mundane lives and suffering of individual soldiers.
* AnyoneCanDie: And they do.
* {{Arcadia}}: The Melanesian village; Witt's memories of life on the farm; private Bell's memories of his wife.
* ArmchairMilitary: Brigadier General Quintard (John Travolta) and captain Charles Bosche (George Clooney).
* AttackAttackAttack: LTC Tall's repeated orders to attack the ridgeline.
* AuteurLicense: To quote [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thin_Red_Line_(1998_film) That other Wiki:]]
-->''"(The producers) gained the director's confidence by "catering to his every whim," providing him with obscure research material, including a book titled ''Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia'', an audiotape of ''Kodo: Heartbeat Drummers of Japan'', information on the Navajo code talkers... making his travel plans and helping the director and his wife Michele get a mortgage."''
* AuthorAvatar: Cpl. Fife.
* BillingDisplacement: It's more than a little baffling why Sean Penn got top billing.
** You'll also see George Clooney's name and face plastered on ever poster, trailer and box cover to do with this film. He turns up in the background of one scene near the very end of the movie.
** Not only that, but for some reason John Travolta isn't listed on the poster or in the trailer. Now, this ''could'' be understandable, given how he only has roughly two scenes that come near the beginning-middle of the film, but the fact that they easily outmatch Clooney's one cameo in length leaves one confused as to why he would be substituted. Adding to the perplexity is that Travolta is practically the ''only'' A-List talent in the film's final cut whose name isn't on the poster.
* BittersweetEnding: The soldiers manage to take Guadalcanal, but [[AnyoneCanDie many of the characters don't make it.]]
* BladeOfGrassCut: The entire film. Regarding Malick's vision of the film, the producers said,
-->''[[WhatDoYouMeanItsNotSymbolic "Malick's Guadalcanal would be a Paradise Lost, an Eden, raped by the green poison, as Terry used to call it, of war]]. Much of the violence was to be portrayed indirectly. A soldier is shot, but rather than showing a [[TakeThat Spielbergian bloody face]] we see a [[BladeOfGrassCut tree explode, the shredded vegetation, and a gorgeous bird]] with a broken wing flying out of a tree."''
* BloodKnight: the excessively savage Dale.
* BoisterousBruiser: Queen, in the book.
* CaptainSmoothAndSergeantRough
--> A unit is like a family. Every family has a father, that's me. Sergeant Welsh here is the mother.
* CardSharp: Nellie Coombs (in the novel).
* ChronicHeroSyndrome: Witt.
* CommunicationsOfficer: Cpl. Fife serves as the company's radioman in the first battle.
* CompositeCharacter: in the film Keck (Woody Harrelson) combines elements of Keck and Big Un Cash from the book.
* CompressedAdaptation: Witt's character ([[MeaningfulName Prewitt]]) [[spoiler:dies in]] ''Literature/FromHereToEternity'', Dash Mihok's character (Pfc. Doll) is the focus of the 1968 film by Cinemascope, and Pvt. Train was meant to be an AudienceSurrogate.
* DearJohnLetter: [[spoiler:Bell]] gets one, much to his grief. It's a literal example as well, since his name is John ("Jack" in the film).
* DeathByAdaptation: In the 1964 film, [[spoiler:Welsh]] dies in a HeroicSacrifice moment.
* DeathIsDramatic: Subverted in a darkly hilarious way when [[spoiler:Sgt. Keck [[BlackComedy accidently pulls the pin off his own grenade while strapped to him.]] [[WhatAnIdiot He himself felt the entire thing to be a very stupid mistake]].]]
* DeathSeeker: Sgt. [=McCron=] (John Savage), after a BreakTheCutie moment when we see him praying with his men in the hull of the landing craft.
--> Why did they have to die and I'm still here? Huh!? I can stand right here, and not-- one-- bullet!
* DefectorFromDecadence: Witt, with his pacifist worldview, repeatedly goes AWOL. The beginning of the film has him enjoying life in a Melanesian village.
* DemotedToExtra: Adrien Brody was cast in the lead role. You'd be forgiven for not noticing he was even in the movie.
* DissonantSerenity: [[strike:Half]] The entire movie, but especially the tracking shots through the tall-grass during the hill assault.
** There is also a scene with the capture of the bunker, where one of the Japanese soldiers sits meditating in the middle of all the carnage surrounding him.
* DoNotDoThisCoolThing: Averted in general. The film is pretty brutal, warfare is not depicted as something overly glamorous and there's not a word about patriotism (or any other high ideals for that matter). The tone is pretty much very down-to-earth.
** TruthInTelevision: There are no RedShirts, no FiveManBand and few [[CharacterArchetype archetypal characters]], unlike most war films. All the soldiers have slightly different personalities but generally tend to absorb the personality of their unit. AnyoneCanDie, and new faces come in and go throughout the film, like they would in a real unit (the book was based on James Jones' real life experience) subverting the standard fictional narrative arc. Much of the film's narrative is experienced in the characters' heads, and the climactic battle that serves as a formative experience for the entire unit occurs in the first half of the film. In the rest of the film we observe the aftermath.
* DrillSergeantNasty: LTC Tall
* DuringTheWar: WarWasBeginning long beforehand.
* EpicMovie: See All-Star Cast above.
* {{Expy}}: The characters are all recapitulated from Jones' previous novels. In ''Literature/FromHereToEternity'', Witt is named [[MeaningfulName Prewitt]], is a boxer, and [[spoiler:[[DoomedByCanon dies in that book]]]].
* FaceDeathWithDignity: Witt recalls his mother's quiet acceptance of her impending demise and hopes he will act the same way when the time comes. [[spoiler:He does.]]
* FieldPromotion / RankUp: happens everywhere in the book, the most notable examples being [[spoiler:John Bell and "Skinny" Culn]]), two [=NCOs=] who get a commission.
* TheFilmOfTheBook: Two of them. Both are pretty faithful to the source material.
* {{Foil}}: Lt. Col. Tall to Capt. Staros (the former is career-oriented, the latter is genuinely sensitive to the needs of his men); Welsh (the materialist with an individualistic outlook on life) to Witt (the idealist who believes himself to be part of a bigger whole).
** The 1964 movie pitts Welsh (a career military who plays by the rules of the war) and Doll (a survivalist opportunist) against each other.
* {{Foreshadowing}}: Witt's mom's death.
* FreakOut: [=McCron=] suffers a nervous breakdown after all of his men are killed in battle.
* GhibliHills: The Melanesian village.
* GloryHound: Lt. Col. Tall (Nick Nolte). [-"You're young. Y-you've '''''got''''' your war. This is my '''''first''''' war."-]
** Brass Band in the book, called "Glory Hunter" behind his back.
* GreyAndGrayMorality: Both the Japanese and American soldiers [[WhatTheHellHero commit atrocities]] [[TheWoobie and suffer]] DuringTheWar.
* HairTriggerTemper: Witt (in the book only), Lt. Col. Tall (in the film only).
* HarbingerOfImpendingDoom: The Navy cruiser arrives off the coast of the Melanesian paradise looking for Witt and Train.
* HeroicBSOD: Sgt. [=McCron=] (John Savage) is mentally broken shortly into the film when his entire platoon is wiped out, causing him to have a bad flash back to his experiences as a soldier in [[{{Hair}} another life]].
* HeroicSacrifice: in the 1998 film [[spoiler:Witt]] draws the attention of an approaching Japanese column to buy time for the rest of his unit to escape. He gets surrounded and allows himself to get gunned down.
** In the 1964 film, [[spoiler:Welsh]] [[TakingTheBullet takes the bullet]] for Doll.
* HiddenHeartOfGold: Welsh's gruff, cynical exterior and pragmatic worldview effectively hide the compassion that he feels for his men.
-->'''Witt''': You care about me, don't you, sergeant? I always felt like you did. Why do you always make yourself out like a rock?
* HoldingHands: the dying [[spoiler:Bead]] asks Fife to hold his hand.
* HopeSproutsEternal: The very last scene shows a coconut sprouting on the beach.
* HungryJungle: [-'''Col. Tall:''' "You see those vines? How they twine around, swallowing everything? Nature's cruel."-]
* IncorruptiblePurePureness: Witt, in the 1998 film.
* ItHasBeenAnHonor: in an odd variation, Staros implies this to his men after being relieved of command.
* ItNeverGetsAnyEasier: "Have you ever had anyone die in your arms, sir?"
** ItGetsEasier: "How many men? Lives ''will'' be lost in your company... You're just not tough-fibered enough." (See LackOfEmpathy below.)
* JumpingOnAGrenade: [[spoiler:Sgt. Keck]], after he accidentally detonates his own.
* KnightInSourArmor: Welsh (Sean Penn).
-->'''Welsh:''' The world's blowing itself to hell just about as fast as we can arrange it. Only one thing a man can do - find something that's his, and make an island for himself.
-->'''Welsh:''' Still believing in the beautiful light? I wish I knew how you did that. Because me, I can't feel nothing.
-->'''later:''' Where's your spark now? ([[ManlyTears cries]] [[spoiler:over Witt's grave]] at the end)
* LackOfEmpathy: "combat numbness" (EmotionSuppression induced by the horrors of the war) leads everyone to temporarily lose the ability to feel. Discussed in the movie, when Storm remarks that he's no longer able to empathize with the suffering around him and Welsh wishes he could say the same about himself.
** EmotionsVersusStoicism: characters in the book note that failing to feel anything does wonders for their performance in combat.
* LikeASonToMe
-->'''Tall:''' You feel like a son to me, John. [beat] You know what my son does? He's a bait salesman.
* LiteraryAllusionTitle: to a Rudyard Kipling poem, which also makes up half of the book's epigraph. (It's also an allusion to a Midwestern saying, which makes up the other half).
* LoadsAndLoadsOfCharacters: It's been said there's only one character in the movie, and it's Charlie company.
* LongTake: Some of the tracking shots during the hill assault.
* {{Mangst}}: all the characters, for various reasons.
* MauveShirt: [[spoiler:Sgt. Keck]], after tremendous build-up, dies accidentally and horribly shortway into the film when [[spoiler:[[FinaglesLaw he pulls the pin instead of the grenade]]]].
--> "[[BloodyHilarious I blew my butt off!]]"
* MeaningfulEcho: Witt's opening monologue about his mother. Can double as a TearJerker on a repeat viewing. (It's quite possible due to the nature of the movie, and its length that you have forgotten exactly what he said at the start.)
* MeaningfulName: the book notes that, oddly enough, Welsh is actually of Welsh origins.
* MercyKill: a variation occurs when Welsh delivers morphine to the mortally wounded [[spoiler:Tella]], who proceeds to shoot himself up with it.
* MilitaryMoonshiner: Nellie Coombs in the novel.
* MindScrew: If "all men got one big soul", then every soldier's internal monologue is really the same character trapped in a different body. But only Witt realizes this.
* NarratorAllAlong: a variation. Significant portions of the voice-over (including the opening monologue) cannot be immediately attributed to any of the major characters; the ending shows them to be the thoughts of [[spoiler:Pvt. Train]].
* TheNeidermeyer: Lt. Col. Tall (Nick Nolte), a ''"Captain Queeg"''-like character, only more effective.
** True to form, he is pitted against [[AFatherToHisMen Capt. Staros]].
--->'''Staros:''' We had a man, gut shot out, on the slope, sir. It created quite an upset.
--->'''Tall:''' Fine! Fine! Now what about those reinforcements!
--->'''Staros:''' My company alone cannot take that position, sir.
--->'''Tall:''' You're not going to take your men into the jungle to avoid a god damned fight.\\
Now do you hear me, Staros! [[AttackAttackAttack I want you to attack. I want you to attack right now with every man at your disposal. Now attack, Staros!]]
--->'''Tall:''' (later) It's never necessary to tell me that you think I'm right. We'll just... assume it.
--->'''Staros:''' We need some water... the men are passing out.
--->'''Tall:''' The only time you should start worrying about a soldier is when they stop bitchin'.
** Partly subverted in that he secretly has a low opinion of himself, as revealed in the internal monologue.
--->'''Tall''' (while following [[ArmchairMilitary General Quintard]] around): ''Shut up in a tomb. Can't lift the lid. Played a role I never conceived. What I might have given for love's sake... too late.''
* NobleSavage: The Melanesian village. The first one Witt goes AWOL on is paradise on earth, untouched by Western ways. The second one is scarred by war and the people avoid him like the plague.
* NotSoStoic: the normally indifferent and composed Welsh sheds a few tears at [[spoiler:Witt's grave]].
* ObiWanMoment: [[spoiler: Witt's]] death.
* OminousLatinChanting : At the beginning, the requiem "In Paradisum" from Gabriel Fauré. There are also [[SacredLanguage Ominous Melanesian Chanting]] at some points.
* ThePhilosopher: Witt, a fact which is especially evident in his inner monologues.
** Train (the red-haired private) is responsible for the film's first and last monologues.
* RealMenLoveJesus: Capt. Staros, who prays for his men's safety before battle.
* ReasonableAuthorityFigure: Capt. Stein[=/=]Staros, who (at the cost of his career) refuses a direct order for what he deems a suicidal frontal attack. His successor, Capt. Bosche, appears to be this, too, at least in the book.
* TheResenter: Lt. Col. Tall was passed over for promotion (in the film only).
* SceneryPorn: The entire film. Some entire scenes consist of contemplative shots of a coconut growing on the beach, water falling off leaves, birds and animals trying their best to ignore the carnage.
* SergeantRock: First Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn).
* ShellShockedVeteran: Several.
* ShoutOut: The narration paraphrases a lot of poets.
* SillyRabbitIdealismIsForKids: Private Witt is constantly taunted by his superiors for being a naive dreamer.
* SituationalSexuality: occurs several times in the book, the earliest example being between [[spoiler:Fife and Bead]].
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: the film is a rumination on war and nature; initially it shows the world in a pessimistic light, noting the conflict between the two powers of nature - however, the final scenes suggest that our universe is essentially harmonious.
** The sliding scale also appears in arguments between Witt (idealism) and Welsh (cynicism).
* SociopathicSoldier: Dale, although he does have a HeelRealization in the film (in the book, not so much).
* SouthernFriedPrivate: The highly-articulate variety.
* StandardSnippet: ''[[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG9-j3eevL4#t=2m0s Journey To The Line]]'' has become one.
* SwingLowSweetHarriet: Bell's wife.
* TeamChef: Sgt. Storm is the company cook, which the book (unlike the movie) makes clear.
* TeamMom: in the book, [=McCron=] has the reputation of a "mother hen". Additionally, in both the 1998 film and the book Captain Bosche refers to Welsh's role within the company as this.
* TokenGoodTeammate: Witt.
* WarIsHell:
** And apparently not just for humans. Many of the most haunting shots in the movie involve [[GaiasLament nature being destroyed and ravaged by war]]. One particularly gruesome scene is [[spoiler:a close-up of a mortally scorched baby parrot, slowly twitching and dying]] [[SceneryGorn in the burnt grass]]. [[TearJerker Damn]].
** There's also a scene in which a soldier remarks that he had seen burnt corpses of both men and dogs...[[FireForgedFriends and there isn't really any difference between them]].
* WhatYouAreInTheDark:
** A character removes teeth from (either live or dead) Japanese prisoners using pliers, then later has an [[ShellShockedVeteran emotional breakdown]] and throws the bag of teeth away.
** While less prominent in the film, it is one the novel's major themes; the characters' inner workings often deal with them battling the realization that they could get away with immoral things during war.
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