The Thin Red Line is a famous book about the battle of Guadalcanal by author James Jones. It is a philosophical work about the internal and external battles the various soldiers go through.It was made into a movie twice, in 1964 and 1998. The more famous of the two adaptations (the 1998 one) was created by legendary reclusive auteur filmmaker Terrence Malick, whose films specialize in deep philosophizing, sumptuous 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 Loads and Loads of Characters (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 threat of impending death.The film is also notable for being pitted against Saving Private Ryan both at the time it came out and ever since, with the two (very different) war films being (perhaps unfairly) compared to each other and various film critics taking sides. This is owing to the fact that 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 From Here to Eternity, also by James Jones. Also, The Thin Red Line is to The Pacific as Saving Private Ryan is to Band of Brothers.DEFINITELY not to be confused withThe Thin Blue Line.
Adapted Out: several important characters do not make it into the cast of the movie.
Ambition Is Evil: 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.
An Aesop: 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 just a nonsensical tragedy or does it have some bright side as well? Does nature suffer from war at least as much as humans?" The answer is up to you, dear tropers...
Staros: You're like my sons. (...) You are my sons.
The Alcoholic / Functional Addict: 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.
All-Star Cast: More than Ocean's 11. According to one critic, "everyone in Hollywood auditioned for the film," because Malick was a mysterious legend who hadn't made a film in 20 years.
Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Ben Chaplin, John Cusack, John C. Reilly, George Clooney, John Travolta, Jared Leto, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Savage. (Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Gary Oldman, Bill Pullman, Lukas Haas, Viggo Mortensen and Mickey Rourke also starred, but didn't make the final cut. Rourke in particular felt betrayed by this as he felt his work on this film to be the best of his career).
"(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."
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.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: 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.
Truth in Television: There are no Red Shirts, no Five-Man Band and few archetypal characters, unlike most war films. All the soldiers have slightly different personalities but generally tend to absorb the personality of their unit. Anyone Can Die, 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.
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.
Heroic BSOD: 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 another life.
Heroic Sacrifice: in the 1998 film 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.
Malick specifically cast actors (dozens of famous actors) who look like each other, to put forth the message that all the soldiers are part of a unit and fundamentally different aspects of the same person. With lots and lots of (then-unknown) actors cast because they look very similar to lots and lots of (famous) actors who all wanted to appear in a Malick film, and with most of the dialogue being internal monologue, you have a situation where it's easier for people who haven't read the book to tell the characters apart by the actor playing them.
A few flashbacks and somewhat surreal sequences reveal that Ben Chaplin's character is married to Eowyn.
Hidden Heart of Gold: 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?
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? (criesover Witt's grave at the end)
Lack of Empathy: "combat numbness" (Emotion Suppression 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.
Emotions Versus Stoicism: characters in the book note that failing to feel anything does wonders for their performance in combat.
Literary Allusion Title: 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).
Meaningful Echo: Witt's opening monologue about his mother. Can double as a Tear Jerker 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.)
Meaningful Name: the book notes that, oddly enough, Welsh is actually of Welsh origins.
Mercy Kill: a variation occurs when Welsh delivers morphine to the mortally wounded Tella, who proceeds to shoot himself up with it.
Mind Screw: 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.
Narrator All Along: 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 Pvt. Train.
The Neidermeyer: Lt. Col. Tall (Nick Nolte), a "Captain Queeg"-like character, only more effective.
Reasonable Authority Figure: 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.
The Resenter: Lt. Col. Tall was passed over for promotion (in the film only).
Scenery Porn: 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.
Situational Sexuality: occurs several times in the book, the earliest example being between Fife and Bead.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: 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).
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.