It was never
a question of whether John Milius’ Red Dawn would become a reference
point in the war on terror; it was only a question of when and how. In the 1984
film, Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey and C. Thomas Howell grind down a Soviet
invasion with pilfered AK-47s and RPGs. When the raid that captured Saddam Hussein
was coined Operation Red Dawn, the film found its place in history. The movie
was immediately recalled by the press as "Cold War propaganda" and
"jingoistic." But the central theme of the story–the bitterness
of dying to protect one’s country–was overlooked, as was the uncomfortable
analogy to the war against insurgents in Iraq.
the film’s writer and director, who also co-wrote Apocalypse Now
and Conan the Barbarian, discusses making Red Dawn, an American
mujahideen and Bush’s preemptive world.
I was surprised
to wake up Sunday morning to see Red Dawn on tv. Can you tell me what
you thought when you heard this?
I was very
proud, you know. I was just thrilled. It’s nice to be liked someplace in
the world. I have very strong supporters in the military.
the film itself, while it was a Cold War-era film, has a broader message. What
message do you think people latched onto?
almost like a Revolutionary War message. It’s the nature of America’s
struggle against oppression. But the movie, because it was a rare patriotic
movie in a time when that really wasn’t done very often, I think it really
struck a chord. It really struck a chord with people who’ve grown up [with
it]… They’ve told me, "God, I just love that movie." Because
everybody, I think, had that fantasy of what would happen if your home was invaded
and you would fight the Russians and whatever.
I came of
age watching the film, and it allowed us to indulge that fantasy in a very real
When I was
a kid in the early 60s and 50s, even, actually I went to high school in Colorado.
One of the big things we wanted to be, aside from football players and skiers
and everything else–we wanted to be mountain men. And so we read everything
about Jim Pritchard and Jim Carson, all that kind of thing, you know, to be
a woodsman. The greatest fantasy of all was that we were going to go up to the
mountains and resist the Russians with flint-lock rifles, cap-lock rifles, anyway.
One of the
great scenes in that movie is when the kids go into the store and get to take
everything. (Laughs) You take your sleeping bags and all the neat knives and
thermoses and, of course, they take the football.
the film after Sept. 11 because we had been attacked and, in a sense, we were
at war. The one scene that really stuck out was when the Wolverines execute
the Russian soldier and the mayor’s son, Daryl. The rationale that Jed
[Patrick Swayze’s character] gives is, "We live here." For me
that sort of summed up the anger and fear that followed Sept. 11.
the emotional core of it, isn’t it though? That’s it. We live here.
This is what we are. At the time I remember that was a very, very powerful scene…
[I]t was extremely [difficult] to shoot that. We were way, way up on a place
called Johnson’s Mesa. It snowed. The wind was blowing in. It dropped below
zero, everybody was getting frostbite, as well as the fact, I remember, everyone
had dysentery. So you had the problem of everyone having to rush to various
facilities wearing Avirex assault gear. It’s funny how those are the things
the power of that scene and that they got into it because of the fact that it
was so bitterly cold. And yet it was so beautiful at the same time. Everybody
became kind of strongly attached to the place. There are a lot of different
scenes people think of as the most powerful moments.
remember–one of the things I love is when they talk about the "Seige
of Denver." (Laughs) It’s like people are eating each other like Leningrad.
It was the whole idea of taking the Russian myth–which was true to them
and extraordinarily powerful–of the Great Patriotic War and using it against
When I watched
the film recently, it seemed like the Wolverines were sort of a mujahideen,
at least in a strategic sense, the attacks on convoys–this is stuff we’re
seeing now. Were you addressing the Soviets in Afghanistan?
movie was made because the Soviets were in Afghanistan. Actually, the Soviets
had invaded Afghanistan the year before. Remember, we wouldn’t let them
go to the Olympics or they withdrew from the Olympics, and that’s when
the movie was made; that’s when the people at MGM decided we’re going
to make this patriotic movie that’s mirroring the situation in Afghanistan,
and we’ll release it during the Olympics.
movie was very successful. It was just roundly hated by the liberal community
and critics. I was vilified and excoriated to a degree–and I was one who
was used to being vilified and excoriated for my movies–but that movie
really got their dander up.
the movie is a very complicated look at what war does to people. I don’t
think any of the characters are resolved as to their role in the whole thing;
it seems like a bunch of them want to be children rather than fighting.
you see the tremendous cost of everything. Nobody comes out of it whole or unscarred.
The ones that in the end, when they get away, they’re looking down on this
vast plain and say, "We’re free now." And he says, "Free
to do what?"
the tables have turned; the United States is in a situation where we’re
occupying a country and we have to make ourselves open to the attacks that the
Wolverines were perpetrating in Red Dawn.
that’s a whole other thing. We’re doing what we said we’re going
to do. Bush was very clear after 9/11 about what he was going to do, and he
hasn’t really deviated from that, even though people haven’t liked
it or anything else. He’s been fairly resolute in saying, "You’re
either for us or against us." And where we find people against us, we’re
going to go get ’em and we’re not going to tolerate blowing apart
our cities and killing tens of thousands of Americans. We’re not going
to roll over.
very interesting. Again, it’s one of these cases where, when people are
not involved directly, they don’t seem to care. We have a more [divided]
nation now than we did in Vietnam.