Favorite Moments: ‘Cut ’em out!’

*My apologies regarding a post that went up earlier today that has since been deleted; it was a draft that had been set to be posted automatically, but I forgot to expand and revise it.*

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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Previous installments of this column have looked at scenes that I enjoy watching, but today marks the first that, while brilliantly done, is not a fun scene by any stretch of the imagination.

Back in 2001, I was a 15 year old teen in high school who was eagerly looking forward to ‘Pearl Harbor’ and all the explosions, sinking ships, and general war carnage that hot-blooded teenagers go nuts over. Imagine my surprise to find that most of the movie revolves around a romance that drags on for over an hour before the actual attack starts. When the film came to an end, I was annoyed and disappointed, with the film quickly fading from memory as I headed home.

That is, except for one scene.

For all the flak it’s taken about the unwanted romantic subplot, the inaccuracies of the attack itself (including clearly visible modern-day destroyers), there’s one horrifying scene that ‘Pearl Harbor’ does perfectly (skip to 1:32):

 

Even 18 years later, this remains the most unsettling moment in any war film I’ve seen, and is easily the most heartbreaking scene in any movie directed by Michael Bay: Several sailors are trapped inside the upturned USS Oklahoma and screaming for help as the ship continues to flood, but drown only inches from safety as their rescuers fail to cut them out in time, unable to do anything but listen to their muffled screams as they die.

What’s so unsettling about this scene is how it uses an inevitable suffering scenario: That is, people who are going to endure something awful and there’s no way to stop it. Here, it’s the sailors who are going to die in one of the most horrific ways imaginable (drowning), but to make it even crueler, the only thing keeping them from escaping is a single piece of steel. They can see the daylight outside, and the people trying to save them, but it’s too late to get them out. And to twist the knife even further, we see the rescue attempt not from their perspective, but from the people trying to cut through, forcing us, the viewer, to imagine what it must be like underneath that steel. All we see of these doomed sailors are their hands and a screaming mouth.

Pearl Harbor suffers from focusing too much on a romance that nobody really wanted, various inaccuracies, and other issues, but for one scene, it perfectly captures the horrors of war.

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