Gods and Generals

I finished watching the epic Gods and Generals on DVD this weekend. I say “finished” because I watched it over a period of three days. Yes, it’s long. Yes, it’s slow in places. And yes, after all the shots were fired, I loved the film.

Several things struck me about this first in a trilogy of Civil War movies (Part Two, Gettysburg, was completed in 1993). First, this film portrayed the South in a much different, much more accurate light than the usual, modern-day politically correct fare. Many today would say that the Southern soldiers were fighting for slavery, but Gods and Generals portrays most of them as fighting for their autonomy and independence. Slavery was certainly an issue (and an important one at that), but one must remember that most Confederate soldiers were not slave owners. Many were probably were racist in some form or fashion, as can also be said about the Union soldiers from abolitionist states. The abolitionist-slavery debate was the fuse that lit the powder keg of the war.

Second, the biblically-infused language that the characters in the movie used is difficult to get used to. There is ample time in the three-hours plus film, however, to overcome this “foreign” style of speech. The speech, laden with biblical imagery and Scriptural references sounds strange to our postmodern ears. Most people in our culture today are almost completely biblically illiterate (save, of course, for “judge not lest ye be judged”—that most oft quoted Scripture known by all). The strange language of Gods and Generals helps (consciously or not) the viewer to see just how much our culture is alienated to the Bible.

This should be further evidence to the Christian today that we are speaking a different language in our culture. We should still speak it, and speak it loudly—but we should also be able and willing to translate some things. Does a statue of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse speak clearly to today’s culture? Perhaps, but perhaps also there are better ways to speak the Faith. Perhaps I’ll write more about that later.

Back to the film: third, this film depicts how dangerous the virtues of duty and honor can be if used unwisely. Duty and honor must always be tempered with wisdom, otherwise one might find oneself standing in a firing line hoping that you are not the one who will fall next, regardless of how good a soldier you are. The old, “courageous,” stand-in-a-line-and-get-shot method of fighting may indeed be honorable, but to me it seems ultimately stupid.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10