The Great Escape (1963)

by | Aug 23, 2014 | Forum Archives, Suggested Stories

I originally watched the film more than 30 years ago. I remember that it had left such an impression on me that it was very difficult for me to watch the ending.

Started by Susan Arakawa on 2014-08-23 at 00:10

“The Great Escape” is a 1963 movie based on a nonfiction novel by the same name about a large number of Allied POW’s escaping from a Nazi camp designed specifically to hold some of the best “escape artists” of the war. I chose this movie because I was trying to think of another book or film that correlated to the book I am writing – about a group of men working toward one intended goal.

I originally watched the film more than 30 years ago and had not watched it since. I remember that it had left such an impression on me that it was very difficult for me to watch the ending. I wanted to see if watching it now had the same effect on me that it did so many years ago. Despite the obvious lack of what more current special effects and better choreographed fight scenes would add to the film’s intensity, etc., I’m happy to report that I still could not watch this film before going to bed because I was much too upset and involved in the characters and their various escape attempts (and now, of course, I even know the ending!) to have a restful sleep!

I had difficulty identifying the main character in the film (more on that later&hellip, but I think the vector of intent for the main character, Roger Bartlett, (played by Richard Attenborough) is one of regain. Senior British Officer, Ramsey, says to the camp’s Commandant, that it is the duty of every officer to escape if captured. Bartlett’s character then adds to this main intent – that every officer intends to escape, in order “…to confuse, confound and harass the enemy, “so that as many troops and resources as possible will be wasted on finding POW’s instead of being used on the front line. All of the men are in the camp because they had previously made attempts to escape (some successful, some not), so that is why I chose a regain vector of intent rather than gain.

This communal regain intent (the men’s sworn duty as officers) is in conflict at times with the men’s individual desires to escape the harshness and cruelty of the camp and regain their own freedom rather than waiting for the group to “make their move.” They must work together to get the most men out of the camp as possible at one time and fulfill their duty as officers, rather than escaping on their own and fleeing Germany to save themselves and abandoning their comrades and military service.

Will Cooper replied...

I think this is a tricky story to analyze, and there is room for disagreement. While hitting on "freedom" as the condition of value and "regain" as the vector of intent for main character Roger Bartlett makes sense, I have a different view. I agree with you about Bartlett, but I think the condition of value is "honor and dignity", and the vector of intent is "keep". Escaping the prison camp was the duty of the POWs, to tie up German forces behind the lines, but none of them had much hope of actually reaching freedom. Rather, I think, they wanted to show the Nazis that they had spirit; they weren't beaten even though they were caged behind barbed wire under armed guard.That's why they maintained effective military discipline, why they marched, kept up appearances, and sought to keep fighting in the only way they could—to hold on to their self-image as officers and gentlemen who were morally superior to their captors. Even though most of them didn't make it to freedom—indeed, most of them were murdered—I would argue that they succeeded. I would state the theme as follows: "One should endeavor to preserve one's honor because success in the attempt serves one's country, defies one's enemies, satisfies one's sense of personal worth, and upholds the moral decencies for which one fights."

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