G.I. Jane (review)

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War Movies Are Hell, Or Are They?

Boy, I was really ready to hate G.I. Jane. Stupid title, stupid Demi Moore with her pretty face and no talent, stupid Hollywood movie that will gussy the military up and splatter it with a lot of politically correct bull dinky.

But… Wow. G.I. Jane takes all those preconceived notions, turns them around, and uses them to force you to reconsider.
Senator Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) is a tough Texas politician who trades her vote of approval for the new Secretary of Defense for a loosening of the restriction on women in combat. Privately, the Secretary and the Senator agree that they just want a show — they decide to allow a woman into Navy SEAL training, which 60 percent of men can’t get through. A woman will never survive the hellacious 12-week program, but it’ll make everyone involved look good.

To make all the inevitable publicity look even better, they choose not the most qualified candidates, whom they deem not photogenic or feminine enough (one is said to look like “the wife of a Russian potato farmer”), but attractive and demonstrably heterosexual Lieut. Jordan O’Neil (Moore), a Navy Intelligence officer.

Not that O’Neil is unqualified — she’s intelligent and strong, both mentally and physically — and she doesn’t seem any less prepared for Hell Week at the SEAL training camp than her male counterparts. She asks that she receive no special treatment and be judged by the same standards as the men — requests that are not granted: she’s housed separately and given some slack on rigorous training exercises.

But after a few days of abuse and taunts from the men — which I suspect she could have endured if she’d been on an equal footing with them — she snaps. She demands that the camp commander allow her to move into the men’s barracks. And, in a scene that is as powerful as most of, say, Ghost was schmaltzy hokum, she shaves off her long gorgeous hair, turning what for the men was an act of conformity into something defiant and empowering.

I am not a fan of Demi Moore — have I made that clear yet? — but as O’Neil defies expectations, Moore challenges the viewer here to see her as more than just a movie star. She’s still not a great actor, and the strength of G.I. Jane rests more on the script and Ridley Scott‘s direction than on Moore’s performance, but I can think of few other women who could have handled this physically demanding a role and made you believe it.

G.I. Jane pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the almost sadistic training Navy SEALs go through — and to Scott’s credit, he doesn’t editorialize. He doesn’t force the viewer to ask, Why would anyone, male or female, put themselves through this?, because he demonstrates the necessity of such training, and the rewards of it. And G.I. Jane asks for nothing more, and nothing less, than equal rights for women in the military — not special rights or double standards, which the film acknowledges only harm women in the end and keep them separate. Yet I was astounded to find that G.I. Jane actually addressed the fact that the problem with women in the military isn’t with women but with men’s attitudes toward women, and with the public’s incomprehensible attitude that men’s bodies coming home in bags is somehow less distressful and less distasteful than women’s.

Oh, and the stupid title? Well, G.I.s are army personnel; O’Neil is Navy, right? “G.I. Jane” is what the press in the movie dub O’Neil when they spy her at the SEAL training camp. So what appears to stupidity or laziness on the part of the filmmakers is actually a commentary on the willful ignorance of the public and the media’s need for a juicy sound bite.

What a reversal on my part. I sat down to watch G.I. Jane with a sigh of dread, and watched the end credits thinking that I’d just seen one of the best military movies ever made. Go know.

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