/Answers: The Greatest War Movie Scenes

Jack Giroux: “The Horror” in Apocalypse Now

A scene and two words that encapsulate the entire experience of Apocalypse Now perfectly – “the horror.” Francis Ford Coppola’s film feels like a nightmare with no end in sight, but the end Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) does arrive at is a series of haunting, dreamlike images. With The Doors’ “This is the End” playing, Willard rises from the water, lit by a flash of lightning – I think every shot in this sequence is ingrained in my head. Each shot is a piece from a master filmmaker.

The final confrontation is between two men, two characters who understand each other better than anyone else, but it’s as horrific as the movie’s few battle scenes. When Kurtz and Willard are in the shadows, the darkness and their presences are still so powerful. The shot of Kurtz’s head sticking out of the shadows as Willard kills him is horrifying. The entire sequence is emotionally and spiritually grueling. The use of The Doors and its sense of madness, intensity, and death, is perfect. That song  is like a trance. There’s something all-consuming about it, like Willard’s journey and his killing of Colonel Kurtz, who is speaking only the truth when his assassin comes to kill him.

Christopher Stipp: The Girl in the Red Coat in Schindler’s List

There are some movie scenes that, when you see them, no matter how many times you attune yourself to the context of the moment, they never lose their emotional punch. When I saw Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List in the theaters, I just remember sinking into my chair and feeling the horrors of a war that has been told so many times before in movie after movie but, this time, with a much different gravitas. Its hue, a stark black and white, was a masterstroke, as it only elevated the drama happening in every scene.

One of those scenes, though, was more haunting than any other. It runs about three minutes, but it contextualizes the entire film. A Jewish ghetto is raided by Nazis and we see it mostly from the perspective of Oskar Schindler, who is initially gallivanting on a hilltop overlooking this ghetto. He stops and is transfixed at what’s happening in the streets below. There are screams, yelling of commands, gunshots – aa sinister order to it all. Among all this is this little girl in red. It’s the only color you’ll see and, indeed, your eye follows this tiny girl who wears this pleated red coat and walks unknowingly, innocently though the carnage. She marches in line with men and women who are being rounded up like cattle and a Nazi rests his hand behind her back to hurry her along. It’s symbolic not so much for her initial appearance – it’s a harbinger for what happens when she appears in a scene later in the movie.

It’s nearly a fool’s errand to make sense of what happened during the Holocaust, but Spielberg managed to make evil incarnate come alive and make the senseless extermination of Jews become unforgettable.

Ethan Anderton: Saving Private Ryan

Maybe no one wanted to be the person who made the obvious choice and went with a scene from Saving Private Ryan. The only problem is there are so many scenes from Saving Private Ryan that it’s hard to narrow it down. For me though, I think the most powerful and harrowing scene takes place on the upper level of an abandoned building during the climactic battle at Ramelle.

After a brief gun battle, German soldiers make their way into the room, sparking a brief gun battle that sends bullets flying through the wall into the staircase that leads upstairs. Private Stanley Mellish (Adam Goldberg) is unscathed, but his fellow soldier is shot in the throat and is bleeding out. The surviving German soldier out of the two that came up the stairs barges in and engages in a hand-to-hand fight with Mellish. They roll around on the floor, trying to over power each other, even rolling over the other soldier who is still grasping his throat as he continues to bleed out.

Eventually the fight escalates when Mellish gets out a knife to stab the German solider. But the enemy is too strong and overpowers him, taking the knife, turning it on the young Jewish American, and slowly stabbing him until he dies. All the while, the inexperience Private Upham is cowering in the stairs. This scene is brutal, suspenseful and heartbreaking. It never fails to resonate with me, no matter how many times I see it. You can just feel that blade in your own body as it slowly slides into Mellish’s body, and I actually find it more brutal than any of the other war scenes in Saving Private Ryan, if only because it’s such a personal kill.


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