(Taking a break from Islamic extremism… )
I am probably one of the very few people alive who has never owned a VCR or DVD player. Until now…
…so it was no small event I when settled down in front of my computer screen & clicked on the ‘Start Movie’ label. And the movie I started was (drum roll, please!)….The Patriot. It seemed most fitting that my first ever home movie-viewing should be commemorated with a film about the Revolutionary War, one of my strongest interests.
Mel Gibson played the leading role of Benjamin Martin, a farmer and widowed father of seven, living in South Carolina in 1776, shortly before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Until the war literally came to his doorstep, Martin resisted joining in the fight. He was, after all, a father of seven.
But all that changed when a British colonel cruelly, needlessly shot Martin’s fifteen year old son, then burned his house & barn, and mercilessly executed wounded patriots being cared for there. Around this point in the movie, I had to start looking away, again & again. Almost in an instant, Benjamin Martin changed. The solid homesteader, father and provider for his family reverted to the ruthless guerrilla soldier of his French & Indian War days. A fierce freedom fighter was born. His baptism was not of fire (though fire played a tragic part), but of savage, violent bloodshed.
This onslaught of graphic combat scenes was a shock to my senses. (At first, I thought it was just me being wimpy, or girly…delicate sensibilities and all that! But Philip French, writing for Guardian.co.uk, describes those same scenes as ‘stirring and extremely violent…’) By movie’s end, I had braced myself against them enough times that I felt almost numb. Within that numbness, though, were several other reactions that I could not quite identify. I knew that I needed some time, a little distance from the event, to let those reactions evolve into more definite concepts. (So I gave myself all of 2 or 3 days, and am watching the film again! About one-third of the way through, as I write this.)
Eager to know if the character of Benjamin Martin was fictional, or if he had actually lived and fought in those revolutionary times, I did some Internet searches, though. To my delight, I learned that ‘Benjamin Martin’ was a composite of five actual Revolutionary War freedom fighters (according to this movie review by Jon Roland.) Except for one dissenting voice – “The character is clearly based on Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the Confederate guerrilla commander from Virginia in the Civil War who was dubbed the Grey Ghost…” – the consensus of reviewers seems to be that his character was based, primarily, on the ‘Swamp Fox’ of the South Carolina wetlands, Francis Marion. An anonymous source from Sony Pictures admits that the film was originally conceived as a factual biography of Marion, but research into Marion’s history & character turned up some unsavory behaviors. It seems he possibly raped female slaves, and killed Indians for the fun of it. Rewrites were done.