Gods and Generals

Gods and Generals movie post

            Gods and Generals is a film adaptation of Jeff Sharaa’s novel Gods and Generals, written as the prequel to his father’s (Michael Sharaa) best-selling novel Killer Angels.  In the book there are several main characters and each chapter focuses on one of them on a rotating basis.  The movie follows the same premise and focuses exclusively on the characters of General Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Summary

            The plot of the move centers around three important Civil War battles and each character’s role in them.  After a short period showing Lee’s refusal to take command of the federal armies and Jackson’s decision to fight for the South, the Battle of First Manassas commences, where Jackson received the nickname “Stonewall”.  After the conclusion of the battle the movie skips over several important battles and a year of events to get to the Battle of Fredericksburg.  The charge against the sunken road is shown in great detail, and Chamberlain is featured prominently in these scenes including when the 20th Maine makes its own assault on the Stonewall.  After Fredericksburg, there are several moments of characterization for Jackson, Lee and Chamberlain in the winter period of 1862, but these quickly give way to the renewal of battle at Chancellorsville.  During this battle the movie shows with great drama the infamous shooting of “Stonewall” Jackson by his own soldiers at night.  The movie concludes with Jackson’s death and Lee’s reaction to the news of his passing.

Analysis

            Gods and Generals is just a bad film, lacking in a coherent narrative, a logical timeline and proper characterization.  However, there are several aspects of the film that are interesting from a Civil War memory perspective.   The movie has many lost cause themes within it; including the deification of the Confederate generals (It’s called Gods and Generals!), emphasis on other reasons why southerners fought the war besides slavery, the supposed anti-slavery sentiments of the confederacy’s top generals and the supposed overwhelming odds the South faced in comparison to the vast resources of the North.  It is also telling that the only Northern main character is a devoted anti-slavery man, perpetuating the lost cause theme that it was northern abolitionist who started the war and continued it for so long.

Gods and Generals treats Lee and Jackson as tragic yet holy figures in our history.  The choice to show Lee’s refusal of Winfield Scott’s offer for him to command the union armies was meant to show the purity of Lee’s motives.  He was not fighting for slavery or property but for his home state of Virginia.  For both generals there is an emphasis on their extreme piety.  Special scenes are devoted to the generals praying to god and lamenting the horrors of war.  There is even a scene where Jackson converses with his black cook Jim and prays that one day god would alleviate Jim’s people’s suffering.  In conclusion Gods and Generals remembers the Civil War as a second war of independence for the south, fought by pure, pious religious men who did not believe in slavery and were fighting instead against tyranny.

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