I just watched RESCUE DAWN this past weekend on DVD. I was fascinated.
Let me first say that it is a GOOD movie, not a great one. The film is about the escape of Vietnam war POW and American fighter pilot Dieter Dengler. Christian Bale stars as Dieter, and the film also stars (my man) Steve Zahn as fellow American POW Duane Martin.
It is a fascinating story – and I love cinematic “true stories” – but what really impressed me about the film was the direction by acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog. And I didn’t realize it until I started watching the DVD special features.
In one of the featurettes, Herzog talks about his philosophy of keeping the “reality” of the actual events in the film. This was evident by Herzog having his actors walk through the jungle barefoot, eating maggots, attaching leeches to their bodies, and enduring hours of filming where they were handcuffed to the floor of a bamboo hut. The lengths that the director, actors, and crew went to create this film borders on insane – but it made for a compelling cinema.
As I started to read up on the film a bit, I found a quote from Herzog that caught my eye. Dengler lived through horrific torture while a POW, only some of which is shown in RESCUE DAWN:
In his real story, and it was partially filmed, there was real torture, very nasty torture. I never felt comfortable with number one filming it and keeping it in the film because I always when I make a film see it like a spectator. As a spectator, I do not want and do not like to see physical violence against the defenseless. I do not want to see the rape of a woman. I do not want to see torture of a man in handcuffs. A couple of these scenes were filmed because they happened to be in the screenplay. When you read it on paper, it looks different than when you really do it in physical life and you do it for the camera. Most of these scenes are deleted. I always had a feeling they should be deleted and I had a big confrontation with a producer one of these days and I predicted they would be out and they are out now. I’m very confident with the way it is.
I think this is a very different philosophy than what we’ve seen from GDT, who chose to show the torture of a human being in PAN’S LABYRINTH. GDT’s intent was for the torture to be “off-putting” to the spectator, whereas Herzog chose to spare the spectator the emotion.
I highly recommend you peruse some of these interviews with Herzog that I am posting below, and also I hope you take the time to watch the film and ESPECIALLY the special features. To watch Herzog and these actors make this film and talk about their filmmaking philosophy was definitely an educational experience.