The Patriot is a movie that really must burn critics whenever they think of it. When it was first released, their reviews were harsh and unforgiving, no doubt attempting to sink it at the box office and prevent it from becoming a staple of the American holiday. I am not entirely certain why unless it was too raw and emotional for them, too much of a reminder that men died for the rights they take for granted and sometimes abuse. Perhaps it was not politically correct enough for them, or maybe because in the film two children use guns to rescue their brother from being hanged. Guns are fine and violence glorified in gangster movies, but when it comes to a patriotic ode to this nation’s founding, goodness gracious me, what a scandal! How inappropriate! How boring and intrusive and just plain bad can a movie be? “Lumbering pace” and “overly emotional” might have been their words. I’m not surprised. Sitting in a darkened theater listening to the heartache of patriotic viewers must get old when you are a leftist, American-loathing critic.
Much to my amusement, in spite of their efforts to convince audiences it was a bloated mess without meaning, The Patriot has become tradition for many families. When Independence Day rolls around, after the parades and stuffing oneself with hamburgers, hot dogs, and Grandma’s red jello dessert, and before going out to see the fireworks, many individuals including me usually sit down to watch this. It’s not because it is a historical epic but because we all need reminders of just why this day is important, why it matters, and how it came at such cost. Standing at the window after the end with my dad, watching the rain come down, he remarked quietly, “That movie always makes me emotional.” I just nodded. That is rather the point, isn’t it? To remind ourselves — sometimes brutally — that freedom is never free. Someone, at some point in time, paid for it, often with their lives. It is easy to forget that, to focus on modern politics and eternal struggles, but it is only through watching the brutality of war, the devastating losses suffered by Benjamin and his family, that we come to understand this nation did not sprout out of the earth without the blood of patriots. Jefferson once said that the tree of liberty must be watered occasionally with “the blood of tyrants and patriots,” as a reminder to us of the cost of freedom.
While the film is not perfect history and does revolve around a fictional character (admittedly, loosely based on Frances Marion, the Swamp Fox) it also allows us to see the strife and difficulties of the time period, as well as to experience a rush of patriotism when all is said and done. It is one of those movies that more often than not makes me cry at the most unexpected moments … less at the deaths of various marvelous characters we have grown to love, and more at the images… a cross burning brilliantly into the darkening sky… a torn flag fluttering in the wind, held in the hands of a patriot… tattered men turning to follow Benjamin as he runs up the hill bearing the insignia not of his nation, but of the nation it will become. The movie is not just about the war for Independence, it is about true patriotism — about a man who cares deeply about his family, and comes to understand that the ONLY way to protect them is to fight for them. For them to have the rights we take for granted.
Yes, this particular production is all-American, about Americans winning liberty from their motherland, but I hope all people feel the same sense of patriotism and pride about their nation that I do mine. I care about America deeply. Behind my faith and my family, it is the most important thing in my life. I care about it so much that I have wept and prayed for it. I have thanked God for it. I have begged Him for His mercy. I have been forced time and again to turn it over to Him, and to trust that we have not forgotten all it took to gain liberty. Benjamin Martin might have been a figment of imagination, but there were hundreds of others just like him, who abhorred war but undertook it for the good of their children, of their children’s children, who thought of me and others like me when they envisioned something wonderful, something profound, something new:
A nation in which all men are created equal under God, where religion or lack thereof is the choice of the individual; a nation of ambition and faith and dreams. And even when he we drift and lose our way, there is still the past to beckon to us, to whisper a reminder that in spite of our failings, we are still free.
FREEDOM. It comes at far too high a cost to ever be taken for granted.