The Thin Red Line: Themes in Dialogue
DUALITY OF LIFE
2. Train: “Is there a war in the heart of nature? Why does nature violate itself? Is there an avenging power to nature? Not one power, but two?”
- Train’s tattoo is a Bible verse—John 4:4: “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he (Christ) that is in you, than he that is in the world (anti-Christ).”
7-8. On the island. Journey to the line.
- Pvt. Train. “Who are you who live in all these many forms? Your death that captures all. You too the source of all that is to born. Your glory, your mercy, peace, truth. You give a calm spirit, understanding, courage, a contented heart.”
- Witt and the wounded. “Maybe all men got one big soul, and everybody’s a part of it—all faces of the same man, one big self. Everyone looking for salvation for himself. Each like a coal drawn from the fire.”
42. The mop-up battle—the Americans are victorious
- Train’s voice-over: “This great evil. Where is it coming from? How did it steal into the world? What seed? What root did it grow from? Who’s doing’ this? Who’s killin’ us? Robbin’ us of life and light? Mockin’ us with the sight of what we might have known? Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed through this night?”
57. Pvt. Witt revisits the village we saw him in at the beginning of the film.
- His voice-over: “They were a family. How did they break up and come apart? So that now we’re turned against each other—each standing in the other’s light? How did we lose the good that was given us? Let it slip away—scattered, careless?” Later, apart from the village. “What’s keepin’ us from reachin’ out and touchin’ the glory?”
- Witt runs into the wounded G.I. left behind by his company. “It’s nice and quiet—peaceful up here. There’ll be somebody along.”
69. On the landing craft
- Pvt. Train talks to Pvt. Dale (the tooth collector). “I’m determined now. I’ve been through the thick and thin of it. I may be young, but I’ve lived plenty of life. I’m going to start living it good. You know, my daddy always told me it will get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Cuz you know, life is not supposed to be that hard when you’re young. I figure after this the worst will be gone. It’s time for things to get better. That’s what I want. That’s what’s going to happen.”
- Pvt. Doll walks among the other men. We hear Train’s voice-over: “Where is it we were together? Who were you that I lived with—walked with—the brother—the friend? Darkness, light—strife. Are they the workings of one mind? The features of the same face? Oh, my soul! Let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes. Look out at the things you made—all things shining.”
WITT VS. WELSH ARGUMENT:
4. Welsh: “In this world a man—by himself—is nothing. And there ain’t no world—but this one.” Witt: “I’ve seen another world.” Welsh: “Then you’ve seen things I never will.”
- Welsh: “We’re living in a world that’s blowing itself to hell as fast as everyone can arrange it. In a situation like that, all a man can do is shut his eyes and let nothing touch him—look out for himself.”
13. Frontal assault.
- Sgt. Keck to his platoon. “You’ve got no choice. You’re picked. So you’ve got to go. I’ll go with the first group.”
21. Col. Tall orders Capt. Staros to advance, but Staros refuses his order.
- Staros tells Tall, “I’ve lived with these men for 2 ½ years, and I will not order them to their deaths.”
- After the call, Lt. Band tells the troops, “One place is as good as another. There’s no place to hide.”
28. Welsh confronts Witt at dusk.
- “I feel sorry for you, kid. This army is going to kill you. If you’re smart, you’ll take care of yourself. There’s nothing you can do for anybody else. You’re just running into a burning house where nobody can be saved. What difference do you think you can make—one single man in this madness? If you die, it’s going to be for nothing. There’s not some other world out there where everybody’s going to be okay. It’s just this one. Just this rock.”
30. Second Night Scene
- Pvt. Bell’s voice-over—as we see intimate images of his wife and him. “We—together. One being. Hold together like water, until I can’t tell you from me. I drink you—now.”
- Capt. Staros alone that night. He prays, “You are my light—my guide.”
38. After the battle, Pvt. Fife and Pvt. Witt have encounters with the dead.
- Pvt. Fife stands in front of some dead Americans on litters. He is watching a Japanese soldier crouched over a dead comrade. “You see many dead people. They’re no different than dead dogs—once you get used to the idea.” He looks at the dead Japanese. “You’re meat, kid.”
- Pvt. Witt stands above a dead man, whose head barely extends above the ground. The dead man talks (in a voice-over) to Witt: “Are you righteous? Kind? Does your confidence lie in this? Are you loved by all? Know that I was too. Do you imagine your suffering will be less because you love goodness, truth?”
43-44. Pvt. Dale, the collector of teeth, confronts a dying Japanese soldier.
- “I want to sink my teeth into your liver. You’re dying. See those birds up there. They’re going to eat you raw. Where you are going you’re not coming back from.”
- The Japanese soldier speaks to Dale, and reminds him that he is going to die too.
- Pvt. Dale: “What are you to me? Nothin’.”
- Nearby, Pvt. Bell notices a Japanese soldier cradling a dead comrade in his arms.
46. Col. Tall confronts Capt. Staros and relieves him of his command.
- Tall: “I don’t think you’re tough enough. You’re too soft-hearted. You’re not a tough fighter.
- Staros: “I don’t like to see my men get killed, sir. Have you ever had anyone die in our arms, sir? Have you?”
- Tall: “Look at this jungle! Look at those vines, the way they wallow everything. Nature’s cruel, Staros!”
51. The men are given time off the line. They are all shouting and laughing and drinking.
- Capt. Staros says good-bye to his men. They thank him for refusing Col. Tall’s order. He tells them, “You’re like my sons.” When he goes to the plane, to leave Guadalcanal, his voice-over: “You are my sons—my dear sons—you live inside me now. I’ll carry you with me wherever I go.”
- Train’s voice-over, as the men continue to relax: “Can’t nothing make you forget it. Each time you start from scratch.” (A fistfight between two G.I.s) “War don’t ennoble men—it turns them into dogs—poisons the soul.” Cut to Pvt. Dale, tormented by private demons, who throws away all of the teeth he has collected from dead Japanese.
52. Pvt. Bell’s internal flashback of his wife and his voice-over—as if reading from a letter he has written to her:
- “My dear wife. You get something twisted out of your insides with all of this blood, filth, and noise. I’m going to stay changeless for you. I want to come back to you the man I was before.” The flashback of his wife shows her alone—and looking nervous. “How do we get to those other shores? How do we get to those blue hills? Where does it come from? Who lit the flame in us? No war can put it out, or conquer it. I was a prisoner. You set me free.”
59. Mess Sgt. Storm and Sgt. Welsh talk. Wounded and dying G.I.s surround them in litters.
- Sgt. Storm: “I don’t care how much training you go, no matter who you are, it’s a matter of luck if you get killed. Makes no difference who you are. If you’re in the wrong spot at the wrong time you’re going to get it. I look at the boy dying, I don’t feel nothin’. I don’t care about nothin’ anymore.”
- Sgt. Welsh: “Sounds like bliss. I don’t have that feeling yet—that numbness. Not like the rest of you guys, maybe because I knew what to expect. Maybe I was frozen up already.”
60. Witt and Welsh meet for a third time.
- First, Witt returns to Charlie Company, walks along, and smiles at all of the men.
- At the Copra plantation, Welsh asks, “Why are you such a troublemaker?” Witt says, “You care about me, don’t you Sarge? Why do you always make yourself out like a rock? Do you ever get lonely?” Welsh: “Only around people.” Witt examines an empty birdcage. “You still a believer in the great light, are you? How do you do that? You’re a magician to me.” Witt: “I still see a spark in you.”
61. Third night scene
- Welsh walks around the men bedded down in the grass. Train’s voice-over: “One man looks at a dying bird and thinks there’s nothing but unanswered pain—that death’s got the final word. It’s laughin’ at them. Another man sees that same bird—and feels the glory—feels something smiling through.”
66-67. Sgt. Welsh’s transformation
- He kneels at the shallow grave of Pvt. Witt and says, “Where’s your spark now?”
- Welsh stands and watches as the new captain, Captain Bosche, who has replaced Capt. Staros, spews out the tough guy talk: “I like to think of myself as a family man, and that’s what we all are here, whether we like it or not. We are a family. I’m the father. I guess that makes Sgt. Welsh here the mother. That makes you all the children of this family. Now a family can only have one head-and that is the father. Father is the head, and mother runs it. That’s the way it’s going to work here.”
- Meanwhile, we hear the lone voice-over of Sgt. Welsh: “Everything a lie, everything you hear, everything you see—so much to spew out! They just keep coming—one after another. You’re in a box—a moving box. They want you dead, or in their lie.”
- On the way to the beach, Sgt. Welsh joins the line of men in his company. They walk past cemetery (of Americans killed in action), and Sgt. Welsh’s voice-over continues: “Only one thing a man can do is find something that’s his—make an island for himself. If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack. A glance from your eyes, and my life will be yours.”
Film resource written by Robert Yahnke
Copyright, Robert E. Yahnke, © 2009
Professor, Univ. of Minnesota
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