History poses as one of the most abundant sources for inspiration and narrative. Why create story from scratch when mankind has existence to draw from? So many perspectives, figures, events, and people to use for art. However, many difficulties arise from writing on history. The most present, obviously, is the danger of inaccuracy. Who would it offend to get something wrong? Who has the authority to say exactly how something happened? A less apparent problem is the fine line between thoughtful depiction and laze in writing.
The ethos of history is a useful tool to draw upon to capture emotion, but can easily drift into the realm of choosing an easier story to tell rather than posing stylized interpretation. Those skilled few who are able to surpass both boundaries and carefully create a plotline that is accurate while also humane in nature truly have proven themselves as storytellers. And then, there’s HBO’s war drama “Band of Brothers.” In a league of its own, “Band of Brothers” turns creative history into its own art form and reminds us that, while we may all know World War II, none of us truly know the men who lived it or the heroes who died in it.
“Band of Brothers” needs no extended introduction. It is a 10-part mini-series, the story of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States military, retold by the surviving members of Easy Company, from their young days preparing to land in occupied France up until V-J Day. Every American, and assumedly many members of the human race, have some sort of understanding of what happened from 1939 until 1945. Fascism steamrolled across Europe and Asia. When Hitler marched into France, America became involved. With vigilance and a strong devotion to justice, the Allies won the war and defeated Fascist forces. No matter how anyone may interpret this story, or who exactly were the good guys in this war, there is an understood history that one side defeated the other. This war has been depicted in an infinite number of mediums and will probably be discussed in history for the rest of predictable existence. But, in the discussion of World War II, one facet is often neglected: the individual. What did the men on the ground think of the war? Who were these “heroes”? How could ordinary men change history? In something so big, like one of the deadliest events in recorded history, it’s quite difficult to seek the human perspective. The personal perspective. And that is exactly what “Band of Brothers” does so well. Taking ordinary men and making them do extraordinary things. Calling to question: how much would you sacrifice for your country? How willing are you to save the world?
At the foreground of “Band of Brothers” is Lieutenant Dick Winters (played by Damian Lewis of Showtime’s “Homeland”), a stoic yet compassionate leader to the men of Easy Company. Dick Winters is almost too good to be true, but, just like many of the Easy Company men, is entirely based upon the real Dick Winters. Because the story follows many stories from Easy Company, Dick acts more as a patriarch rather than a protagonist. He is the face and force behind Easy Company. The many men under Dick flow together in what could possibly be the greatest ensemble of characters ever imagined, perhaps because they were not imagined, but they truly existed. The most captivating part of watching each of these men act together is their nuanced, individual character arcs throughout the war. Not only does the audience gain a perspective of World War II from the eyes of one soldier, but they gain perspectives from an entire unit and their interactions with the people they liberate and the men they fight. Sometimes, they end up fighting each other, which is why Dick Winters acts as such a perfect example of the American hero and the perfect head to Easy Company. He acts as a reminder of the American ideal in patriotism, and that his men may never be as good as he is. Their human flaws are emphasized to greater detail because of Dick’s regimented order. Dick’s believability could only be possible in a retelling of history. Such a person could only be shaped by the horrors of war. Dick is a man who has cost lives with his mistakes, but handles it with the grace and humility that creates an unmistakablely imperfect hero.
The obstacle in writing about “Band of Brothers” is trying to put into words what perfection in depiction can be, especially for a writer like myself who could not even begin to imagine what it was like to participate in World War II. Even the show’s cinematography could only be described as “accurate,” which may not be very appealing, but its grittiness and attention to action and realism is just another way the show shines in its appreciation of truth. “Band of Brothers” is raw, and the men who fight are invincible. The war they fight is genocidal. Nothing could be so awful. No men could be so noble and yet so destroyed. No group of people could be so inseparable. Something so perfectly crafted could only be the most masterful work of fiction.
There is not much left to be said about “Band of Brothers” just because it really is a story that no one can know but everyone can experience. It is currently the highest rated show on the Internet Movie Data Base. Every single American should watch “Band of Brothers.” It is truly one of the most perfect pieces of television ever created. The whole series is currently available on HBO.
This review is part of a weekly column called “Revival Reviews.” The column is primarily focused on shows that have aired over the past 10 years and intends to explore shows that may have been too mature at the time of their premiere for current Wes students.