The award-winning 2000’s movie “The Patriot” details a man’s life struggles at the time of the Revolutionary war. While far from being a historically accurate portrayal of the events or a real person’s life, the movie still manages to show the general sentiments of the time and tie them to a personal conflict relatable to audiences. The film has received both wide criticism and recognition for its plot, characters, cinematography, and soundtrack. This analysis will focus on recounting the events of the film and highlighting some of its interesting aspects.
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To better address the peculiarities of the movie, it is appropriate to discuss the plot first. Set during the Revolutionary War of the 1770-1780s, the story follows Benjamin Martin, a war veteran and a single father raising his 7 children. Living a humble life in South Carolina, he does not own slaves and works in carpentry, fashioning rocking chairs. His two eldest sons have a strong desire to enlist in the military and join the war effort. While Benjamin strongly objects, knowing the horrors of war from personal experience, he is unable to stop the oldest, Gabriel, from joining the continental army. After two years, Gabriel returns to the Martin household amidst fighting and gunfire. It is soon discovered that he and the rest of the soldiers are wounded, with Benjamin taking care of both sides. With the arrival of the British Colonel William Tavington, however, the fragile peace is broken and Benjamin’s house is burned down. With one of his sons taken away and the other mercilessly murdered on the spot, Martin takes decisive action for the sake of protecting his family and vengeance. Freeing Gabriel from captivity during a surprise attack, the main hero and his son join the Continental effort once again.
Working with the other members of the army, Benjamin recruits more people into the military using their shared distaste for the King of England. Their general goal is to disrupt the plans of General Charles Cornwallis while the French reinforcements are on their way. The rag-tag militia is slowly formed, destroying the British supply lines and harassing convoys. Sabotaging the General’s plans and taking possession of his prized dogs, Benjamin and his comrades manage to stall the British army’s progression considerably. In the less action-filled moments of the film, it also explores a romantic subplot between Martin’s son, Gabriel, and Anne, his childhood friend. The two briefly meet after a long period and start to warm up to each other. During the subsequent operation to ambush a supply train, the heroes are tricked by the hidden British soldiers. Unprepared to deal with such large numbers and the approaching cavalry, Benjamin orders the men to retreat. Many are injured, killed, or captured in the process, but the main protagonist and Gabriel manage to escape. Benjamin, knowing that his captured comrades are soon to be executed, strikes a deal with General Cornwallis to release them in exchange for his favorite dogs. With a bit of deception, Benjamin frees his men and successfully regroups. In response to the main hero’s actions, the General authorizes the use of harsh intimidation tactics for Colonel Tavington, leading to the destruction of Charlette’s plantation. After another romantic interlude between Gabriel and Anne, where they get married, Benjamin’s militia moves on. Anne and her family find out that the town they live in has been taken under control by the British, who force all the residents into a church and light it on fire. Learning of the trouble, Benjamin and everyone else also arrives at the town, finding dead bodies in the streets and the burned-down church.
Enraged after finding out about his new wife’s death, Gabriel rushes off with a few of his men. During a tense encounter with Colonel Tavington, he is stabbed with a saber and slowly bleeds out in his father’s arms. After a period of doubt and grieving, Benjamin rejoins the militia to take vengeance on the man during the decisive battle at Cowpens. Managing to stab Tavington through the gut and neck, Martin finally avenges both his sons. The battle ends with the British Army’s retreat, and the ending narration informs the audience that their side has lost the war later that year. Benjamin finally returns to his family and works to build his house back up.
Now that the plot has been summarized, it is time to take a deeper look into some of the interesting aspects of the movie. Firstly, it is interesting to explore how the events of the film are significant to that period of Colonial History. The story takes place during the time of uncertainty, the revolutionary war between the soon-to-be America and Britain. This was a period where many people united under the same cause to stand for the values they held dear, to protect the people they loved, and to reject the control of the Empire. While the colonies were not a singular entity, conflicts with the British served as a unifying factor for many and were fueled by the principles of freedom and personhood that characterized the early American colonizers. The film highlights both the individual efforts of people during the time of war and the unique motivations driving the characters to fight. Many of them, including the main character, do not participate out of a sense of duty or a higher cause, but just want to help their families or achieve various personal goals. Benjamin first starts his operations as a “Ghost” to free his son, which then transitions to a desire to help Gabriel in the fight against the British, culminating in a revenge-driven murder of Tavington. His motivations are wholly separated from the notions of duty or patriotism, only coincidentally aligning with the war effort. This shows the audience that soldiers are not just faceless killing machines holding the same beliefs as their leaders, but complex people with their own struggles and concerns. The film also shows relationships between various groups of people. For example, the relations between the American people and Colonel Tavington. While being an opposing force’s commander, Tavington enjoys killing American soldiers, cold-heartedly murdering the main hero’s son without a second thought. He generally behaves in an arrogant manner, partially enabled by his high military status, exuding the aura of strong confidence. Tavington, being of a high position compared to other soldiers and civilians, acts boldly and charges into battle with little regard for his comrades, much less innocent civilians. His status and personality give the man the opportunity to oppress, mock, and kill others. The topic of racial groups also gets brought up in this movie, with the character of Occam, a former slave, being one of the supporting cast. The opinions about black people from the characters are different, with the main hero being openly in favor of freeing slaves, and some of his comrades being opposed to it. The movie displays mixed opinions on the subject from the people of that time period. Generally speaking, the movie does a good job of portraying this period of American history as an uncertain and turbulent time. With many people fighting for ideals they may not hold, risking their lives, some questioning their affiliations with either side, these years in colonial history were a signal of rapid change that would lead to the formation of the United States of America.
Further examining one of the exchanges between Dan Scott and Occam leads the audience into a surprising realization about the nature of war and conflict. Occam, a back man, joined the military with the promise of freedom from slavery after serving for a year. Despite having no obligations after that period has passed, the man continues to fight with the others against the British forces. Dan Scott, a racist villager who also joins the war effort, consistently shows disgust at Occam and scoffs at him for not being able to read. Throughout the majority of his on-screen presence, he is portrayed as an unlikeable character, being against black people being freed for serving in the military. Before the decisive battle, however, he finally shows respect towards Occam and attempts to mend his ways, saying that he is honored to fight alongside him. This sudden change in characterization can be jarring to the viewer, and feel out of place. Reading into it, however, one can understand why Dan’s attitudes have shifted. During his time serving alongside a black man, Dan could see him as a fellow human, a person all-too-similar to his other comrades and somewhat bond during the stressful time of war. The fact that Occam stayed and fought in the military after his term has passed, similarly, has been interpreted as a gesture of devotion and patriotism, making Dan gain respect for the man.
The film ends on a hopeful note, with the last lines of the movie being said by the main character. His wish is that the lives and efforts of many that fought alongside him lead to a formation of a better country, a better place for people like himself. He, like many others, personally understands the struggles of war, having killed innocent people in the past and losing two of his children in the Revolutionary war. Benjamin does not take part in the war for a higher cause, he wants to keep the things he cherishes safe and retaliate against those that threaten his way of life. The man sympathizes with the struggles of ordinary people and wants to rebuild his home that was destroyed in the conflict. His last line can be interpreted to mean that the man hopes that the work and sacrifice of other Americans were not in vain, and some lesion can be learned from this war. That the people in the positions of power will be able to recognize and cherish the values of a common man, creating a new nation honoring the wishes of those that died for it.
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