For the purposes of this paper, the film of focus will the Patriot. This film was written by Robert Rodat and directed by Roland Emmerich. The film has quite a cast, including stars the late Heath Ledger, and Mel Gibson, both of which have substantial film careers and reputations both on and off the screen. The film was released in 2000 by Columbia Pictures, a studio among the oldest film studios in American history. The Patriot is a film set in 1776 in South Carolina. The film touches upon a wealth of issues, some of which remain in the past, and some of which present themselves in 21st century America. The film is definitively an epic. From the opening scenes, there is a grandness in the content, each cut feels wide because of the land and number of people on the plantation. The dolly pans of the camera and the use of lenses with enormous depth of field add to the feeling of grandiosity and to the feeling that this story as well as the film production make The Patriot an epic. The music is orchestral and at times, intentionally imitative of music from the 18th century, all of which, in conjunction with the plot, make The Patriot a worthy film of examination regarding colonial American history. The paper will analyze, deconstruct, and interpret the film with respect to key elements of production as well as the content, which is a dramatization of people and events that actually took place during this point in history.
The plot of The Patriot is fairly straightforward and simple. The context of the film and the social tensions during the time the film takes place are some of the elements that add density to the film making it more complex and less superficial. The protagonist of the film is Benjamin Martin, played by Mel Gibson. At the time that the film begins, Benjamin Martin lives with his family on a beautiful plantation in South Carolina. His wife has died in her mid-thirties. Benjamin, the children, and the freed Africans who work the plantation visit her grave which is the on the plantation/family estate. Martin is a widower and father of seven children.
Although he is a white man living in the southern colonies during the 18th century, Benjamin does not own slaves. He does not believe that people can be treated as property. All of the African people who work for him are paid a wage for their work and are treated with respect, although they are never treated or perceived fully as other white people in the film, as much as they are by the Martin family. This is one of the first clues to the nature of Martin's character.
One of the major events of the film that comes on early is that the Martin estate is overrun with the British Army. They truly brutalized the Martin family. The eldest son, Gabriel, played by Heath Ledger, decides to join the colonial army, opposing the British. In reality, Ledger was Australian, originally a British penal colony, adding some extra tension and rebellion to the subtext of the film. Both Americans and Australians have rebelled against the British during their histories. Ledger joins the army against his father's wishes and warnings.
Once the British arrive, they show very little regard for American lives, murdering wounded soldiers that the Martins have taken in to provide medical attention. One of the British colonels murders Martin's second eldest, Thomas, son in front of the entire family and threatens to hang his oldest son. The British ravage the plantation, taking supplies, slaughtering the livestock, robbing them of horses, and burning the estate to the ground. It is as this point that Benjamin Martin becomes overwhelmingly motivated to recruit, organize, and lead a militia against the British.
The film is nearly three hours long; what is described above is the first half of the film. The second half of the film is the adventure and struggle the Martins have in the Revolutionary War. Benjamin encounters and bands with a series of men with the character and strength to stand up for their beliefs. Having saved his son from hanging, they go on to lead the militia together, until Martin's son dies in his arms after suffering a fatal wound from the same colonel who killed the younger boy in the first 10% of the film. Ultimately, Martin is pushed far away from his home on a Gullah with freed Africans, living in relative harmony. When he, the remaining militia members, and his remaining children return to the estate, Martin finds that a number of his countrymen, neighbors, etc., are working together to rebuild the plantation/estate. It is implied that they are successful and return the estate to its former glory. While clearly an epic and a historical drama, The Patriot is also a film noir. It begins at the end in the future, and the bulk of the narrative takes place in the past, then ending in the future, where it began, as an older Martin recounts the days of the militia, weighing his choices, actions, and character as he approaches the end of his life.
The film, the narrative, the events, and the characters, most notably the protagonist, Martin, debate the concept of patriotism from the American perspective. Patriotism is a very important element of the American identity and heritage. Patriotism is a very sensitive issue for many Americans. Patriotism is just as an important issue for Americans before there formally was an America and in the 21st century, today. Patriotism for Americans when considering the colonial era means a number of things, including one's attitude, words, and actions. Patriotism in this film means carving out a life for oneself and for one's family. As a white man who was a husband and is a father, Benjamin Martin is a patriot insofar as he provides for his family. His children love, respect, and fear him. They also clearly defy him, such as with his two eldest sons, the oldest of which joins the army and the second who tries to save his brother from the clutches of British soldiers and is shot dead for his "insolence." Even when the children defy their father, though, they do so because they have principles that they believe in, most of which were ingrained in them by their father, and for which they put their lives on the line. Martin's two oldest sons literally give their lives because they are standing by righteous principles taught to them by their loving parents. While Martin is devastated by the loss of his sons' lives, their deaths make him cherish their memories all the more. Furthermore, their deaths serve are key motivations that push him to be more of a patriot than he ever perceived himself to be. Therefore, one element of patriotism that exists both in the social reality of America, as well as in the colonial spirit of America is a sense of righteous defiance. After all, the Revolutionary War was one of the penultimate expressions of defiance of the time. The Americans felt the British did not rule fairly and did not wish to be ruled at all, so they rose up against the tyranny they in their lives, stood by their principles, and laid down their lives in righteous defiance to British rule. As a recruiter and leader in the American militia, Benjamin Martin is a symbol for righteous defiance, and the audience is meant to side heavily with his feelings, his perspective, and his actions.
The protagonists in the film are certainly the Martins, from the father, to all of the children. The freed Africans that work for Mr. Martin are additionally set up as protagonists. Gabriel Martin is a protagonist because he is youthful, defiant, on the verge of manhood, handsome, and ready to fight for freedom. Thomas, is a protagonist for the same reasons, and it is especially tragic when he is murdered in front of his family, as a young teenager. Colonel Harry Burwell, played by Chris Cooper is another protagonist. Burwell was Martin's commanding officer during the French and Indian War. They come together again in this film for another war. Burwell is more of a mentor while Martin is firmly the leader in this case. Burwell's wife gives birth to their first child over the course of the narrative and name him after Gabriel, which at that point, has died.
The British are the antagonists, or bad guys of the film The Patriot. The worse Brit of them all is Jason Issacs, as Colonel William Tavington. This is the colonel that first shows up at the Martin plantation. This is the man who murdered two of Martin's sons. After he shot Thomas, in the back no less, he looks down from his horse, at Benjamin, as he mourns, and says about Thomas, "Stupid boy." He is heartless. He…