Hollywood director Peter Berg has created a niche for himself. In 2013, he released the war film Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg and based on a mission-gone-awry in the Afghani mountains that resulted in the deaths of three Marines. Last week Deepwater Horizon, also directed by Berg and starring Wahlberg, hit theaters, detailing how an oil rig malfunctioned, killed eleven workers, and dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In December, Patriots Day, directed by Berg and starring Wahlberg, will open, focusing on the bombing of the Boston Marathon.
I have seen both Love Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, and I loved them as movies. The performances are excellent, the editing and sound design are masterful, and Berg really knows how to build tension around characters we care for.
But even then, I couldn’t help but think, “This is way too soon.” Especially Patriots Day, which is based on events that happened a mere three years ago. ISIS still threatens us. Domestic terror is on every television screen.
Should we really make a movie about a battle we’re still fighting?
We as audience members are drawn to tales of real-life tragedy. As I look at a list of Best Picture winners, I see a noticeable lack of warm and fuzzy comedies. 12 Years a Slave, Schindler’s List, Argo, Platoon, Titanic… There’s something inherently compelling about stories of people we know to have been real, dealing with disasters we can’t imagine.
Of course, relaying information about current events is hardly controversial. Newspapers and websites do this on an hourly basis. Investigative articles and books about tragedies are also the norm. But movies are wildly different. Recreating events before our eyes and claiming them to be true carries immense responsibility. Mark Wahlberg donning a uniform and calling himself Marcus Luttrell creates an inherent duty to Luttrell and his legacy that should not be taken lightly.
By all accounts, Berg truly wants to honor the victims of the Boston bombing and their families. In fact, Berg is focusing on the police force’s heroic response, not the bombers. Berg took a similar tact with Deepwater, concentrating on the human aspect of the story rather than the political aftermath. Berg’s intent seems to be pure, respecting real-life figures he views as heroes.
While intent isn’t the end-all argument for “How soon is too soon”, it certainly is the lynchpin. Berg makes these movies to honor people’s bravery and demonstrate how the human spirit can overcome true horror, and I think he succeeds in that manner.
Learning from history is a valuable endeavor, few would argue. But there were few complaints about Saving Private Ryan or Glory while World Trade Center was accused of being “too soon.”
The truth of the matter is that the Holocaust and the Civil War are far enough in the past to look at with hindsight. Even though I appreciate Berg’s films as celebrations of real-life heroes, I certainly understand how a general audience would feel too close to a subject like the 2013 Boston bombing. I could suggest a time limit between events and big-screen adaptations, but any number would simply be arbitrary.
If the families are uncomfortable, don’t do it. If victims say it’s too soon, wait. Give them the respect they’re due. As long as the subjects are treated honorably and intentions are pure, I’m all for big-screen adaptations of our darkest moments.