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Film / Flags of Our Fathers

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Flags Of Our Fathers is a 2006 Clint Eastwood film depicting the Battle of Iwo Jima, particularly the famous planting of the flag on Mount Suribachi, as well as the post-battle and post-war struggles of the three surviving men out of six who raised the flag as they are turned into a propaganda agent by the U.S. press. It was released jointly with Letters from Iwo Jima, its P.O.V. Sequel.

This film contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: This isn't the first time Adam Beach played a Native American serving in the United States Marine Corps during World War II.
  • The Alcoholic: Ira, Rene also became one in real life.
  • Anachronic Order: Although the underlying plotlines are chronological, the film utilizes a great deal of flashbacks, flash forwards, and even flashbacks-within flashbacks to the arrival to and battle at Iwo Jima, resulting in the entire film playing out like this.
  • Anti-Air: Among the weapons used during the pre-bombardment and invasion of the island are Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft guns pointed downward, due to the lack of Japanese air opposition.
  • A Fate Worse Than Death: It's arguable that the surviving flag raisers had it worse off than the ones who died in battle. Ira can never escape his unwanted fame and PTSD and becomes an alcoholic, dying at the age of 32, while Rene lives the rest of his life as a high school janitor. Even Doc prefers never to speak of Iwo Jima again.
  • Anyone Can Die: And a lot of them don't make it off the island alive.
  • Artistic License – Economics: While numerous sources indicate that the WW2 bond drives were successful at meeting (and beating) their targets, Bud Gerber's speech paints a United States teetering on its last legs. Whether he was simply working off inaccurate information himself, or deliberately lying to the flag-raisers to put a burr under their saddles is not clear.
    Gerber: You know what they're calling this bond drive? The Mighty Seventh. They might've called it the "We're Flat Fucking Broke And Can't Even Afford Bullets So We're Begging For Your Pennies" bond drive, but it didn't have quite the ring. They could've called it that, though, because the last four bond drives came up so short we just printed money instead.
  • Bittersweet Ending / Downer Ending: The flag raisers who weren't killed in the fighting basically have their lives ruined one way or another.
    • Though, in terms of the bigger picture, the war-bond drive the survivors took part in succeeded in its goal of meeting the amount of money needed for the last stretch of the war. In addition, their actions are, at the very least, remembered via the memorial in Washington D.C., as well as the photo of the flag raising itself.
    • Only one character, Doc, gets a decent ending at the cost of his relationship with his son.
  • Blatant Lies: Ira's attempts to deny he was in the photograph to Rene. Ira eventually just resorts to threatening him into staying quiet.
  • Broken Pedestal: While clearly shocked seeing Mike go completely berserk on the enemies that killed two of their soldiers, Ira still calls Mike "the best marine [he] ever knew". He's more frightened of what Mike would think of his current behavior.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: Ira just wants to be a simple, anonymous marine. Sadly, Rene is pressured into naming him as one of the flag raisers, and he is pulled from the war and shipped home. Doc is likewise deeply uncomfortable with his newfound fame and like Ira would prefer that it isn't brought up. The only one who seems to enjoy the spotlight at all is Rene.
  • Collateral Damage: Mike was killed by friendly fire: a navy ship mistook him for a Japanese soldier and fired a shell that blew him open.
  • Cool Boat: The USS Texas (today a Museum ship) is shown as part of the pre-invasion bombardment force.
    • Also shown in less detail are a few of the US Navy's newer fast battleships, notably those of the North Carolina and Iowa-classes.
  • Curb-Stomp Cushion: It's pretty obvious that by the time the Battle of Iwo Jima takes place that the Japanese are losing the war, what with the lack of air and sea opposition the invasion fleet is facing. Unfortunately for the Americans, they've made it a point to hold onto the island and inflict as many American casualties as possible.
  • Dated History: The 2016 research has revealed that Doc isn't actually in the famous photograph of the second flag raising, though he was assigned to the same platoon and was present at the first flag raising (the same squad raised both flags.) The man in the photograph previously misidentified as Doc Bradley was actually Pfc. Harold Schultz.
    • In 2019 it was revealed that Rene Gagnon wasn't on the the photograph as well. Pfc. Harold Keller, who died in 1979 (conveniently the same year as Rene), has been mistaken for Rene.
  • Dead Guy Junior: James Bradley, the author, was named for his grandfather James "Cabbage" Bradley, who died a month or two before the younger James was born.
  • Determinator: Ira traveled (walked, hitchhiked, etc.) almost 1000 miles from the Gila River reservation to Ed Block's home by the Rio Grande to prove that Harlon had indeed raised the flag.
  • Disease Bleach: When Mrs. Strank learned that Mike was killed, her hair went from coal-black to white in weeks.
  • Driven to Suicide: Several Japanese soldiers are discovered in a cave having killed themselves with hand grenades and pistols. Letters from Iwo Jima shows it in even gorier detail.
  • Dwindling Party: Only Ira, Doc, and Rene make it off the island alive, and Doc gets pretty badly wounded.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Deconstructed with the three survivors. Each repeatedly insists that they did nothing heroic and merely survived and are clearly uncomfortable with the level of press they get praising them as heroes. But they have to pretend anyway to raise money for the war effort. Ira takes it especially badly, becoming a washed-up alcoholic.
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: The unveiling of the Iwo Jima statue in November 1954 marks the last time that the three surviving flag raisers would be together. Ira dies two months later.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: Discussed by a Marine flamethrower operator during the beach landings, but ultimately averted, as he survives the battle unscathed.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The Japanese stationed at the island cannot be reinforced, cannot be evacuated, don't have the supplies or the air and naval superiority that the Americans forces do, and are outnumbered approximately six to one. They lose.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on, before the marines ship off for Iwo Jima, Mike tells his CO that he's promised his guys he'll get them back home to their mothers, and that "I've already lied to half of them." Of the six flag raisers, three, including Mike himself, don't make it off the island alive.
    • An irritated Major demands Rene better either be injured or have a good story of the flag raising in order to justify losing his seat back home. Denying both, the Major warns Rene better enjoy the limelight now because they'll forget about him by Christmas.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We never actually what was inflicted on Iggy but rather base it on Doc's reaction.
  • Gossip Evolution: Doc suffered shrapnel wounds to his legs, which eventually turned into rumors that he'd lost his leg.
  • Honor Before Reason: The Japanese garrison fights to the bitter end at Iwo Jima and the vast majority of the defending force is wiped out, despite the fact that there is blatantly no logistically feasible way for them to win this battle.
  • Howl of Sorrow: In the book, when Franklin Sousley's mother Goldie learned that her son was killed, she screamed all night and into the morning. Her screams were heard a quarter of a mile away.
  • Iwo Jima Pose: The Movie. The original photo of the Marines who planted the flag during this battle is the pivotal moment of the plot.
  • Jaded Washout: Ira and Rene.
  • Just Train Wrong: At :43:05, an EMD "F" unit can be seen pulling a train carrying New Hampshire hero Rene Gagnon into Manchester, NH While EMD was indeed building this style of locomotive starting in 1939, A careful inspection of spotting details reveals the lead loco to be an EMD F9, a post-war model not introduced until 1953. A more appropriate streamliner would have been an EMD E7, preferably in Boston & Maine paint.
    • Not only are the diesels the wrong model, but their paint scheme is incorrect as well. The scene takes place in Manchester, NH in 1945 so the locomotives should be painted in the Boston & Maine Railroad's famous maroon and gold "Minuteman" paint scheme. Instead, the engines are painted in their original Burlington Northern paint schemes, a railroad that didn't even exist until 1970 [1]. This is somewhat understandable given the filming location (Glencoe, Illinois) and the almost non-existant availability of Boston & Maine diesels, however a working Boston & Maine streamliner operates at a tourist railroad in New Hampshire [2].
    • Glencoe, Illinois stood in as Manchester, NH and the Glencoe station [3] is visually similar to Amoskeag Depot [4], a railroad station that still stands in Manchester. However, when Rene Gagnon arrived in Manchester in 1945, he arrived at Manchester Union Station [5] (which was torn down in 1962), not Amoskeag Station. Plus, Glencoe is far less urban than the City of Manchester.
  • Kick the Dog: The military gets one, exploiting Hayes for the bond drive despite his blatant emotional instability, but refusing to let him see his mother before shipping out again. (Despite the fact that he's a 'war hero')
  • Kill It with Fire: Several Japanese soldiers are flushed out of a pillbox this way by a Marine with an M2 Flamethrower during the beach landing. Interestingly, this same scene was reused in Letters from Iwo Jima during that film's own beach landing scene.
  • Oppressed Minority Veteran: Ira Hayes, who while touring is refused service at a bar in spite of his status as a Marine, because they "don't serve Indians."
  • Police Are Useless: Though Beech travels alongside the three in order to chaperone them, Doc seems to be the one doing his job. Despite seeing Ira so sloshed he can't even recognize his native tongue, Beech keeps giving him access to open bars, taking him out for drinks, and even shown swapping out Ira's drink with booze. A senator can be overheard saying "boy, is he..." after meeting Ira. Beech makes the brilliant decision to introduce Ira with his dead Sergeant's mother, then leaving them unattended. It's goes about as awkwardly as it sounds, more so for Mike's mom.
  • Poorly Timed Confession: Angrily denying he was at the flag-raising, Ira corrects Rene on errors of who and where everyone was. Rene realizes Ira had to have been there to know. Pointing out Ira's slip of tongue, Ira threatens him into stay quiet.
  • Propaganda Machine: Part of the plot centers around turning the men pictured in the suddenly-world-famous photo into celebrities, so that they can go on tour and sell enough war bonds to keep the war going.
  • Real Footage Re-creation: The main characters recreate the famous Iwo Jima Pose during the second flag raising sequence, complete with the two photographers capturing and filming the scene In-Universe.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Mike is characterized as a tough-as-nails, experienced squad leader who cares about his guys and wants to get them home alive. He is the first of the flag raisers to get killed on Iwo Jima, (by friendly fire, no less) just to really telegraph to the audience how much of a slaughterhouse this battle is going to be before it is all finally over with.
  • Semper Fi: The 5th Marine Division, specifically the unit that raised both flags on Iwo Jima, is the main focus of the film.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Doc, Ira and Rene after making it off Iwo Jima. For that matter, Ira (again), Mike and Harlon after Bougainville.
  • Snipe Hunt: Provides one of the few lighthearted moments in the film. A higher-ranking Marine asks the others in his group if they have their Masturbation Papers in order, and when one Marine (presumably the one who isn't in on the joke) says he doesn't, he's told to run and ask for them, because if he doesn't get them he can't ship out.
  • Storming the Beaches: The battle of Iwo Jima, naturally, begins with the US Marines securing the beaches. They get bogged down once the Japanese return fire, thanks in part to the terrain and the island's defense network.
  • Survivor's Guilt: Hayes makes it off Iwo Jima completely unscathed whilst his friends, Mike, Franklin, and Harlon all get killed. Being in the limelight and the fact that the military initially misidentifies Harlon and refuses to admit it even to the guy's parents damage his psyche even further.
  • Tanks for Nothing: During the beach landings on Iwo, Strank is immediately relieved upon seeing Sherman tanks making it onto the beach, which are then subsequently destroyed by Japanese artillery.
  • There Are No Therapists: PTSD is not a well understood phenomenon at this point in history, so it doesn't particularly occur to anyone why it might be a bad idea to parade three combat veterans across the country and make them constantly talk to complete strangers about the most harrowing, disturbing experience of their lives, all the while in the shadow of their dead friends.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The pre-invasion bombardment. By one reckoning the US expended more than 26 tons of munitions for every Japanese soldier on the island over the course of the battle, from 16 inch down to .45 ACP. In this film, the business end is shown in detail for about half a minute.
  • Tokyo Rose: Under her true but less well known pseudonym "Orphan Ann".
  • Truth in Television: Possibly subverted in that more recent research has revealed that 'Doc' Bradley wasn't one of the flag raisers. Even the author of the book, Bradley's son, has accepted that while Bradley was there, he wasn't one of the six in the photo of the flag raising. All of which makes his silence after the war even more of a mystery - did he know? Or did he think it simply didn't matter?
  • War Is Hell: All three men are scarred by their experiences, even unto old age.
    • Blessed with Suck: In one particularly cringe-inducing scene, a family of tourists gets Ira Hayes's supervisor to call him over to shake hands with them and show him off like a trick-pony, after which the father hands Hayes a dollar.