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Movie Reviews

Is Jarhead Based on a True Story?

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Submerged in the cacophony of guns, inner strife, and the bustle of war, ‘Jarhead’ focuses on the lives of young Marines whose voices are drowned in the war that envelops them. The movie focuses on Anthony Swofford, a young man who enlists in the Marine Corps in the late 1980s. When the Gulf War hits, Anthony Swofford, now a sniper, is shipped out to the Arabian Peninsula along with his best friend and spotter, Alan Troy. Director Sam Mendes epitomizes the struggle of young men who have to navigate the uncertainty of war and face the inevitable realities in front of them.

The 2005 war drama film features performances by Jake Gyllenhall, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, John Krasinski, Lucas Black, and Chris Cooper. While ‘Jarhead’ does not emulate action-packed sequences often seen in a war film, it still showcases the travails and personal struggles of the Marines at war, such as getting dumped by girlfriends or realizing they’ve been cheated on. As such, many wonder if the existential dread faced by the Marines in ‘Jarhead’ holds any facticity. If you’re also wondering if the character of Anthony Swofford is based on a real person, look no further because we’ve got all the answers!

Is Jarhead a True Story?

Yes, ‘Jarhead’ is based on a true story. The screenplay for the movie is written by William Broyles Jr. The movie is based on Anthony Swofford’s best-selling memoir of the same name, released in 2003. While the book is a major inspiration for the screenplay by William Broyles Jr., the writer also worked closely with Anthony Swofford to ensure the nuance or any pivotal details were not missed.

The movie sits in sharp contrast to the average portrayal of war. ‘Jarhead’ diverges from the combat often seen and expected in a war film. Director Sam Mendes explains the incongruity in an interview with Tribute.ca and says that the movie showcases what happens when you train Marines for war and then you take the war away. Unlike the predicament that had come to pass post-2001, the Gulf War was a different war, which is something director Sam Mendes wanted to capture.

Anthony Swofford’s words offer an insight into the lived realities of countless soldiers, which is further elevated in the movie. Like its literary counterpart, the movie wanted to depict an honest portrayal of a marine’s daily life in an odd war where fighting, guns and the on-field battle are rarely seen. Author and veteran Anthony Swofford describes how he had enlisted in the Marine Corps based on the famous slang, “Join the Marines, see the world, meet interesting people and learn how to kill them.” However, the reality turned out to be very different, something which is further analyzed in the movie.

As such, Sam Mendes’ dramatization encapsulates the multiple facets of war. The movie showcases Anthony Swofford’s passage through gruelling training, where he witnesses the death of a fellow Marine in the making. However, when he’s actually shipped to the Saudi Arabian-Kuwait border after Operation Desert Storm, he’s stuck in a cycle of monotony from where he ultimately returns without even firing his rifle. ‘Jarhead’ focuses on the rarely revealed side of combat where soldiers and Marines do not engage in battle.

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One of the primary themes in the movie is how the conditions take a toll on the psyche of the soldiers. In a gripping scene, Anthony Swofford is forbidden to take a shot at an enemy officer because he may give advance to an air strike. The scene showcases how despite the arduous training, the laborious tasks and the debilitating mental pressure, all the soldiers can really do is walk away from the scene. The movie also sheds light on the perils of being away from home. The young Marines experience breakups and infidelity, but all they can do is hang pictures of girls who have dumped them on the Wall of Shame.

Like Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Nausea,’ the Marines find themselves at the precipice of a meaningless existence where they cannot engage in combat and must face the changing face of war by simply taking orders and doing as they are commanded. Staff Sgt. Sykes (Jamie Foxx) tells them they should expect at least 70,000 casualties, but the reality turns out to be much different. Contrary to the countless veterans who put down their lives in the Vietnam War and World War II, all the Marines can do is wallow as they train, sleep, watch television, engage in fights, read and send letters home.

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Instead of combat and battle, ‘Jarhead’ looks at the lonely and exhausted side of soldiers, something that’s experienced by many but spoken by very few. So, despite its unconventional setting that may seem unreal for a war film, ‘Jarhead’ is actually based on a true story. However, even though the movie has been sourced from the best-selling memoir of a war veteran, creative liberties have been taken to embellish the storyline and accentuate the premise of the movie.

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