Emerging Writers Feature

Emerging Writers – Revisiting Saving Private Ryan’s Opening Sequence

The Big Picture is committed to giving young, emerging writers a voice in the world of film criticism. In this feature, student writers from around the world share their insights on contemporary film and new releases.

By Katy Coakley

June 6th, 1944. A gruesome and heartbreaking battle for the U.S. Army is depicted in a 25-minute opening sequence on the screen. Steven Spielberg’s epic war film Saving Private Ryan (1998) recreates the terrifying events of the U.S. Army landing at Omaha Beach – which becomes a part of the Normandy invasion – to fight against the German forces.  

Before searching for Private Ryan (Matt Damon), Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) guides his men to Omaha, but the close-up shot of his hands shaking on the landing craft indicates his struggles with PTSD. Miller knows that thousands of men, including himself, will possibly die during this mission. When waiting for the landing craft’s ramp to drop, the soldiers turn to religion for comfort by praying or making the sign of the cross.  

As the U.S. Army reaches the beach, the Germans immediately begin to slaughter their enemies with MG-42 machine guns. Saving Private Ryan features long shots of the soldiers drowning in bloody water to represent their struggle to escape the horrors of war. Some have quickly given up or been killed, while others still fight to survive.

© 1998 Dreamworks Pictures

Miller reaches the mainland of Normandy, but the sounds of gunshots and screaming disappear in his mind. He becomes overwhelmed with guilt. The film focuses on his point-of-view as he watches his men die. As the sounds of the surviving soldiers bring Miller back from his traumatized state, he manages to put his helmet back on and take command against the Germans. 

Steven Spielberg was heavily praised by World War II veterans for Saving Private Ryan’s realistic portrayal of combat. It also presents how most of the soldiers were ordinary people who led ordinary lives before the war. War is one of the most controversial genres in cinema, but this film manages to present audiences with the struggles of warfare and its lasting effects on the people who served. 


Cinephile Katy Coakley is a student at Dominican University majoring in Digital Journalism with a minor in Film Studies. She enjoys analyzing the film genres of comedy, mystery, and war. Katy also has an interest in directing, and some of her favorite directors include Wes Anderson, James Cameron, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *