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Film / Gods and Generals

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Gods and Generals is the prequel to the 1994 film Gettysburg. The film focuses on Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, from the outbreak of The American Civil War until his death from friendly fire at Chancellorsville. It also features the back story for Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, who appeared in Gettysburg and is once again played by Jeff Daniels.

It was based on the novel of the same name by Jeff Shaara, who took over writing duties after the death of his father, Michael (from whose book The Killer Angels Gettysburg was adapted).

As of 2012, two versions of the film are available to the public: the 3.5 hour version that was released in theaters in 2003 and the 4.5 hour Extended Director's Cut that was released to 2011. Opinion varies on which one is better, but general consensus sides with the latter.

Gods and Generals provides examples of:

  • Ascended Extra: Jackson's role in the film is greatly exaggerated over his importance in the book from which the film was adapted, taking away screen time from the previously equally central characters of Lee and Chamberlain.
  • Backstory: To the characters who appear in Gettysburg but not the film's protagonist, Jackson, who dies.
  • Badass Teacher: Jackson, sort of. He was a Four-Star Badass who was once a decidedly mediocre teacher - his teaching style involved writing a lecture, memorizing it, and reciting it to his students. If they didn't get it, he'd recite the same lecture, word for word, during their next class, and every class afterwards until he was satisfied that they had learned the lesson.
  • Boot Camp Episode: Part two of the Director's Cut (it's divided into 5 parts) largely focuses on Chamberlain's basic training.
  • Character Filibuster: Several, but mostly notably one by Chamberlain on the reason he believes in the Union cause. At this point in the film we've mostly gotten to see Confederate characters from a Sympathetic P.O.V. who don't care much for slavery and are decent human beings who, from their point of view, just want to be left alone. Then Chamberlain (historically from a family of abolitionists) monologues to his sergeant that if the South merely believed the Federal Government had overstepped its authority and restricted their rights, he would disagree but wouldn't question their integrity, but since they complain about their rights being oppressed while simultaneously denying those same rights to others, he considers the Southern cause to be hypocrisy and believes this shows the North has just reasons to prosecute the war and end the rebellion.
  • Cultured Warrior: Chamberlain, a college professor, refuses to quote Lovelace's "To Lucasta" to his wife before he goes off to war, so she quotes it to him. Before the assault at Fredericksburg, he describes Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon to his regiment, and then speaks of how when Roman gladiators entered the ring, they would salute the Emperor with the line, "Hail Caesar. We, who are about to die, salute you." His senior NCO repeats the line as they approach the firing lines.
  • A Father to His Men: Jackson. But he can be a Bad Boss at times, such as when he threatens to bayonet any stragglers during his famous flanking march to Chancellorsville.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We know from history that Jackson will eventually be hit by friendly fire and die from his injuries.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Jackson is portrayed as favoring an eventual abolition of slavery in the South, for which there is no historical evidence - he figured that if God wanted it to end then it would end in God's time, and if God didn't want it to end then it wouldn't. He did get in trouble for teaching Sunday School lessons to slave children, with his defense that "The Lord intended all his children to be able to read his word", but he still believed they could read it fine while remaining in slavery. Also in real life, Jackson's cook was not a freeman as in the movie, but a slave. The film also leaves out his Bunny-Ears Lawyer tendencies, like the fact he kept one hand raised at most times to "keep the blood balanced" and was known to sometimes refuse to fight on a Sunday, considering it a sin.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Fredericksburg has a scene where Union troops repeatedly advance across an open field towards the Confederate troops, who are crouching behind a stone wall. Obviously this works out in the Confederacy's favor. Unfortunately it's Truth in Television: Burnside's tactics at Fredericksburg really were little more than a series of Zerg Rushes against a fortified position. Fifteen years earlier and his tactics would have been just fine given his superior numbers and better artillery. Charging fixed positions to deliver the bayonet would have been how he was taught. It's just that about ten years before the war the Minie Ball and Rifled Musket were introduced, making the standard infantry weapon far more accurate and unbelievably more deadly, and infantry tactics had not yet changed to account for that. It is, however, inaccurate and in fact a bit unfair to Burnside to depict the futile fight at Marye's Heights as all that happened at Fredericksburg. Even Burnside only ever intended the fighting there as a distraction from the decisive fight further south against Stonewall Jackson, where casualties were more even (5,000 Union vs 3,400 Confederate) and where George Meade and his men actually made a fortuitous breakthrough only to have it squandered when William B. Franklin and John F. Reynolds refused to commit any of their 20,000 reserves to support him.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Some of the Rebel troops do this at Manassas. The Confederates under Stonewall Jackson arrive on the scene and a couple of young guys tell their company, "Come on, we can take 'em!" and charge the Union lines. The rest of the company follows, with the commander basically forced to order a charge retroactively. Looking on, Jackson remarks that "It's good to get your dander up", but correctly predicts the company will be slaughtered.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Jackson's young friend Jane. She doesn't get better.
  • Manly Tears: When little Jane dies, Jackson breaks down and weeps openly, not just for her, but for all the people he's seen die so far in the war; Jane simply happened to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
  • Prequel: Takes place before Gettysburg
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Literally; it's based on actual events, so things like Jackson's death are inevitable.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson—devout Christian and genuine Four-Star Badass.
  • Red Baron: "Stonewall" Jackson. Jackson himself denies the title, claiming that it rightfully belongs to the 1st Brigade, not the man who commanded it.
  • Rousing Speech: Several, especially Jackson's "you are the first brigade" as he leaves the 1st Brigade to take command of a corps. At this point we haven't even seen a lot of Jackson's relationship with the brigade, but Stephen Lang delivers the speech so stirringly it still feels like Jackson loves these men to the point where he's almost sad to be promoted.
  • Rule of Drama: In order to emphasize the tragedy of brother fighting brother, the number of Irishmen serving on the Confederate side is somewhat exaggerated—in actual fact the C.S.A. had company-sized Irish units, while the Northern Army of the Potomac had an Irish Brigade. As the film relates its story of Virginians successfully defending their homes against Northern invaders, the attempted invasion of the North in 1862, the defeat in the battle of Antietam (seen by many historians as the real turning point of the war) and Lincoln's subsequent Emancipation Proclamation are all left out, at least in the originally released version. The film in its original edition also minimizes the Unionist part of Virginia's population, e. g. that it was Virginian general Winfield Scott who had suggested to Lincoln to appoint Robert E. Lee as his field commander or that quite early in the war the western third of the state seceded from Virginia and later set itself up as the new state of West Virginia in support of Lincoln's government.
  • Show Within a Show: The stage play scenes in the Director's Cut.
  • Speech-Centric Work: All the main characters spend a lot of time on extended monologues.
  • Start of Darkness: John Wilkes Booth in the Director's Cut. At first, he simply hates Lincoln, as many in the South did. As the film progresses, however, he gradually begins indicating that he's toying with the idea of killing him personally.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Booth, insofar as he can be called a villain at this point in his life.
  • War Is Hell: Applies to both versions, but this is more overt in the Director's Cut which included the Battle of Antietam, complete with some very grim shots of the aftermath.
  • White Man's Burden: Roger Ebert's review of the movie provides the page quote.
    Ebert: 'Stonewall' Jackson assures his black cook that the South will free him, and the cook looks cautiously optimistic. If World War II were handled this way, there'd be hell to pay.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Harrison views Chamberlain as this after the two meet. He decides that, if the Union army has such men in their ranks, then the Confederates will need all the help they can get, thus prompting him to take a hiatus from acting and become a spy.
    • The Confederate Irishmen at Fredericksburg cheer the Union Irish Brigade for their courage as they withdraw from the field.
  • Zerg Rush: Truth in Television: Burnside's "tactics" at Fredericksburg consist largely of having regiment after regiment simply march across a creek, through the town, and into musket range of the Confederate Army, which is dug in behind a thick stone wall with heavy artillery support. Lee actually worries briefly that they might just succeed in swamping him in bodies, but he needn't have.