Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is My Favorite War Film

The first time I saw this film, I enjoyed it but I always wondered why they never explained the shaky hand that Tom Hanks’ character Captain Miller had in a few scenes.  The most memorable scene with this was at the beginning just before the soldiers storm the beach of Normandy, France. Captain Miller’s hand starts shaking, as if he has had too much coffee and little food, but it seems like he ignores this and the viewer assumes it will be explained later.  They never mention it and only use it as a visual.

I did not understand this when I first saw the film because I was about 12 years old.  I understand now that it was intended to visually show the post-traumatic stress Captain Miller had experienced.  I would also consider this a physical symptom of a panic attack.  I never knew I had anxiety and depression as a child.  I only discovered this recently and I am 31 years old as I write this article. Within the last couple years, I learned what a panic attack really was with first-hand experience.  My attacks were never as severe as others I read about but it was still real.

For almost 5 years, I was a bouncer at a nightclub.  This job came with lots of stress having to babysit 250+ drunk adults.  I have been puked on, pissed on, punched in the face countless number of times, had a homeless man pull a knife on me, and someone tried to intentionally run me over with their car.  All this stress added to my anxiety.  The last 2 years as a bouncer, I noticed that my chest would start pounding if I thought something serious was happening.  A balloon popped during New Year’s Eve and I spent 10 minutes trying to calm down.

I checked my heart rate one of these times and noticed that it was still within the normal range.  My heart rate was not elevated but my chest was pounding.  I looked up what this could mean and everything said this was a symptom of a panic attack.  I had never had a panic attack before and these had been going on for about 6 weeks before I looked it up.  When I have a panic attack, or if I think my life might be threatened, my chest starts pounding and I become hyper alert looking at and listening to everything.

I do not know if I have post-traumatic stress but I do have anxiety and some of the symptoms are similar.  This film resonates with me more and more each time I watch it.  I can relate to Captain Miller even more now than I did 20 years ago.  I understand the emotions and thoughts that are going through his mind before storming Normandy beach.  I understand why his hand is shaking during certain scenes of the film.  I understand why he still gets out of the boat despite the threat of losing his life. Courage does not mean you are not afraid.  It means you go anyway.

5 thoughts on “Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is My Favorite War Film

  1. Really dig this post. I am a bit older than you (I saw SPR in college)…but I felt the exact same way about the shaking hand. I didn’t get diagnosed with anxiety until I was 38. I mostly self medicated with alcohol, but once I started having severe panic attacks I went in to the doctor. It really is a difficult thing to explain to people, it feels like a heart attack but it’s not. You paint a good picture of the awful sensation of an anxiety attack. The Captain Miller comparison is a good one, thank you for writing this and sharing your story.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi James,

    I also love Saving Private Ryan but honestly couldn’t remember many scenes from there anymore. Except that one scene when they tried to save the daughter and when she came back to her family slapped her dad.

    I have not experienced anxiety attack but at some point in my life I got really depressed. Thoughts of suicide hovered and crying was a normal event even when inside public commute, e.g. bus or train.

    I really appreciate your blog posts and do hope this is a good outlet for you, too. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and experiences so that we can better understand ourselves and other people.

    Liked by 1 person

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