By Barb Arland-Fye
An opportunity for a special, digital screening of “Greyhound,” a new World War II movie starring Tom Hanks, was set to expire within hours. I asked my husband Steve to join me for a late-late night viewing, even though he was ready to go to sleep. “I’ll watch a World War II movie anytime,” he said.
The Catholic Press Association alerted its members to the special screening of the movie, whose protagonist, Ernest Krause (played by Hanks), has a deep faith. Krause is described as a first-time captain responsible for protecting a convoy of 37 ships carrying thousands of soldiers and supplies across the Atlantic Ocean during World War II.
Although I am not a fan of war movies, “Greyhound” riveted my attention as much as it riveted Steve’s attention. We felt as if we were inside the pilothouse of the World War II destroyer Keeling (codenamed “Greyhound”). Hanks, who wrote the screenplay based on a novel, intended for his audience to have that experience.
The story focuses on a five-day period during which the captain and his small force of three escort ships must make their way through an area of the Atlantic known as the “Black Pit.” During that time, they battle Nazi U-boats while protecting ships and soldiers. Events during the Battle of the Atlantic, which took place in the earliest months of America’s alliance with Great Britain and the Allied Forces, inspired “Greyhound.”
We follow the tense drama through three days of a nightmarish experience of dodging the German Navy’s deadly U-boats through the constantly churning Atlantic. I almost had nightmares watching Krause’s crew using protractors and doing mathematical calculations on glass surfaces and in their heads as they worked to outsmart the Germans.
Steve, a student of World War II history, loved the feeling of being aboard the destroyer with the crew. “I have World War II books. The movie brings the books to life. I’ve read about what happened, but to see it played out on film is nice.”
The subtle and not-so-subtle displays of Krause’s faith touched me. Early on in the movie, we see him kneeling in prayer and holding a prayer book by his bed on the warship. At the movie’s end, we go back to his cabin, where he again kneels in prayer before crawling into bed for long-overdue sleep. At one point in the film, a crew member jubilantly informs Krause that 50 Germans have been killed with the sinking of a U-boat. Krause replies softly, “50 souls.”
Later, the crew stands at attention during a burial at sea ceremony that Krause leads with heartfelt prayer. Steve thought the faith element played a very small role in the movie. I thought Krause’s faith seemed to have a deep influence on the decisions he made, even on the fly, and in his interactions with his crew.
I didn’t read the Greyhound production notes until later, but reflecting on them reminded me of what I love about Tom Hanks: his desire to explore the lives of ordinary people undergoing some extraordinary experiences.
“Hanks says Greyhound tells a story about ordinary people forced to rise to the occasion of extraordinary circumstances. ‘All the details are cool, but it’s the other aspects of life, like, how do you sleep at night? What do you want from tomorrow? What do you hope to gain by your efforts? This stuff is on display in stories about World War II in the same way it’s on display in stories about Catherine the Great’s Russia or the last emperor of China. It ends up being about who we are and the human condition. And that’s why I go back to it again and again.’’’ Hanks said the only thing his character has “as a bulkhead against the stresses of the job is his religious faith” (Greyhound production notes).
Note to Tom Hanks: please continue to set a cinematic example by telling stories of ordinary people undergoing extraordinary experiences and leaning into their faith to guide them.(Get “Greyhound” on Apple TV+, available on the Apple TV app on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch, Mac, select Samsung and LG smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices, and tv.apple.com.)
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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