Patton (1970)

Published: May 24, 2009 |Updated: Jun 7, 2009

Synopsis

Patton is the Oscar-winning epic from 1970 about General George Patton's tour of duty in the Allied forces of World War II. It paints a portrait of a great yet conflicted man: fiercely loyal and dedicated to the cause, vain and vulnerable to his own desire for heroism and glory. It is a testament to the challenging paradox that greatness and myriad flaws can exist within the same man, and teaches us much about the Warrior. Come, let's accept George Patton's help in looking closer at this intense and vitally important archetype of the masculine psyche.

Genre
War drama
Production year
1970
Director
Franklin J. Schaffner
Male actors
George C ScottKarl Malden

General spoiler alert!

» Excavating the Warrior

General George Patton was one of the leading Allied generals in World War II, reputably the one among them who was most feared by the Nazis. He was a controversial and many-faceted character, with a big mouth and the nerve to use it. The movie opens with a famous monologue in which Patton strolls menacingly up and down in front of the American flag, preaching to his soldiers. «No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country,» he bellows out to us, as if we were his troops being prepared for battle. «You win wars by making the other poor son of a bitch die for his country».

It is an important distinction, even for someone who loves death as much as Patton. Listen closely and you hear: Be not afraid to give up your life for a great cause, but don't give it up needlessly, and never give it up in vain. This attitude is at the core of the warrior archetype, of which Patton is a great example. Let us, then, take this opportunity to excavate the dark and light of this archetype, which has been severely weakened in men for the last several decades. But first... we must introduce another archetype.

Patton the hero

Patton was a great man: master athlete, skilled swordsman, amateur poet, scholared historian. He was a religious man, a believer in reincarnation, and a firm believer in the ideals of an ancient warrior code, which he romanticized and yearned for. He was a towering figure, a warrior who would summon the unthinkable out of his men, a superb tactician, and a firm yet just leader. Yet despite all his great qualities, Patton had myriad weaknesses - immature facets of his personality - most notably his deep longing for heroics.

There is a scene in which German planes make a surprise attack on the Maroccan HQ where he has just arrived to assume command of America's North African war operation. He takes cover on the floor, while the building collapses around him, hell raining down out on the streets. The hero archetype in him goes online, and he jumps out the window, ivory-handle revolvers at the ready, screaming «that's enough!». He takes a stand in the middle of the streets, as if he could wrestle the planes out of the sky with his bare hands, and guns away. Granted, Patton was a master marksman, having set records at the Stockholm 1912 Olympics, but his action is reckless and puts the entire war operation at risk. And for what? Avoiding the feeling of being useless, of being a cowardly dog shirking danger.

This scene is particularly interesting because of his line «Come on you bastards, take a shot at me right on the nose», which he directs with intensity at the incoming machine gun-firing planes. The scene shows clearly his unrealistic view of his own invulnerability, as well as his fear of being weak - defining characteristics of the hero archetype. But it also reflects on what he has just shared with general Bradley: his greatest fear in life is dying from a gunshot right at the nose. Now he's putting his life on the line, challenging the Germans to do to him exactly that which he fears the most. This shines a light on the many conflicting facets of Patton: The courage that is willing to confront his fears head-on, and the immaturity that would sacrifice everything for heroics. The former is a character trait of the warrior, the latter of the hero - the immature and mature archetypes on the warrior axis of the KWML model. Now, let's start investigating the warrior.

«God how I hate the 20th century»

«Rommel is out there somewhere waiting for me,» Patton says as he looks with yearning to the horizon, feet firmly planted in the sands of the Sahara. He stands there with his personal aide Richard, describing how - if he had his will - he would challenge Rommel to a duel, two tanks duking it out in the desert, the outcome of which would define the outcome of the war. «Too bad jousting's gone out of style,» Dick muses. «It's like your poetry general, it doesn't belong to the 20th century.» «You're right, Dick,» George replies. «The world grew up.... God how I hate the 20th century.» Gusts of Rome, Greece, Carthage sweep across the sand dunes, and the feeling that Patton would look good with laurels on his head becomes palpable.

This dialogue is important to understand general Patton. He mourns the loss of the warrior, the onset of the culture of fierce personal independence, and seems to suffer deep disappointment over the feeling that warfare is becoming an increasingly dishonorable and impersonal pursuit. The idea of a lineage, of a brotherhood of warriors spanning time seems important to Patton. The lore that surrounds him would have it that he, in World War I, found himself terrified in the trenches, convinced that he would lose his life. Then he looked up to the sky and saw in a vision his forebearers look down at him, shaking their heads in disappointment. The vision, and the accompanying shame, gave him the strength to rise up, march on, and win the battle. This, it seems, was Patton's initiation into manhood, and the birth of the warrior within him.

Patton's belief in reincarnation gave him the conviction that he had been present at key historic battles in past lives, shown in a scene where he shows peculiar familiarity with the site of a battle between the Carthaginians and the Romans on a cliff overlooking the vast fields of Morocco. «I was here,» he tells gen. Bradley, with deep conviction. Let's look closer at why this felt connection of his with warriors of the past is so important.

Laughing in the face of death

The warrior archetype, to grow into full maturity, needs to dedicate himself to a cause larger than him. The warrior is so dedicated, so passionately pursuing the divine or royal edict, that he forgets any danger or discomfort he may find himself in. In old times, the knight would receive his purpose from the king (the channel of the Holy Father amongst men), and were he a just and wise king, the knight - the warrior - would carry it out with complete disregard for his own personal safety. He was born to serve something greater than himself. He was born to serve the king.

Patton's felt historical lineage, and his connection with his ancestors, gives him that cause. He is the chosen one, the perfect warrior, riding on the winds of fate, anticipating that one final battle where he will achieve the freedom of his people, while dying gloriously in the heat of it all. There is, contrary to what we have been trained to think, something truly beautiful about this, and it reminds us of a potential in all men that most contemporary guys have lost touch with. We have been so trained to regard masculine aggression with extreme skepticism that we have become fearful of the very essence of the warrior: the laser sharp focus, his personal sacrifice, his ability to laugh death right in the face.

The warrior is the «darkest» of the masculine archetypes, and if there is one thing we fear today, it's darkness. Yet, if we haven't severed our connetion to the warrior completely, it comes out of hibernation when we are faced with danger and challenge. Problem is, our lives are so safe, so comfortable, that there is not enough real challenge. My experience tells me that few men today admit to being afraid, and I think it is because they deliberately stay out of the heat which a life well lived requires them to confront. Still, sometimes the warrior comes online, perhaps most commonly when deadlines at work draw closer. But generally our jobs don't carry enough of that «regal» quality that the warrior needs to dedicate himself fully to a cause. Instead, we become resentful, ask ourselves why we're wasting away in some office licking stockholders and immoral executives up the arse, and develop an abusive relationship with our inner warrior. We depend on him, but he shows up in situations we hate. We don't come to like the warrior much at all.

Often what happens instead is that we shirk from danger and challenge, and become men of few principles and values. We lose our ability to penetrate, and never get to experience the heightened sense of awareness and the increased tolerance for discomfort that our bodies develop when our focus is intense. We don't have the balls or skills to offer our loved ones protection. In short, we lose the essence of our masculinity. Realize that the hunger for warrior-energy is what drives men to extreme sports, when their normal lives are so stripped of it. The basejumper that crashes into the cliffside goes out in exactly the same blaze of glory that the warrior experiences on the battlefield. And while the hunt for glory really is the hunt for the immature Hero, the true Warrior does have shadow-sides as well, and to investigate these deeper, we will now turn to Patton's infamous abuse of a shellshocked soldier.

«I won't have cowards in my army»

If we look at the warrior axis of the KWML system, we will see that the active shadow side of the warrior is the sadist and the passive is the masochist. I can't find evidence of much masochism in Patton - he puts himself in high regard, but he does have traces of sadism. And as we have already discovered, he is afraid of - and accordingly despises - weakness. Both these qualities come together when Patton encounters a soldier that suffers from shellshock. George loses it, and let's him have it hard. Red in the face, wildness in his eyes, he screams at him, assaults him physically, and lets it be heard that he «won't have cowards in his army». Now this is just after he has knelt down, teary-eyed, by the bedside of a severely injured soldier and showed him tremendous care and compassion. How can he switch so quickly?

The incident becomes a scandal, and the ripple effects cause tremendous damage to his career. He is forced by «Ike» - general Eisenhower - to apologize for his behaviour. As he addresses a large contingent of the 7th Army, which he has led successfully through the Siciliy campaign, he tries to expound on his motivations:

«I assure you I had no intention of being either harsh or cruel in my treatment of the solider in question. My sole purpose was to restore in him some appreciation of his obligations as a man and as a soldier. If one can shame a coward, I felt, one might help him to regain his self respect. This was on my mind.»

He speaks of himself. He was the coward in the ditches of World War I and he was shamed by his ancestors. And because of his strong masculine energy, the shaming made him stronger (masculine energy comes online mainly through challenge and danger). But the soldier in question isn't strongly masculine, but rather a soft and sensitive man. Patton is fearful of the that side of himself, which makes him completely oblivious to this man's need for feminine nurturing (like he just offered the injured soldier), rather than masculine challenge and shaming. This incident speaks to my theory that Patton had not fully integrated and owned up to, shall we say, his own inner coward, and that he projected it out on the soldier.

«All good things must come to an end»

Ripple effects of the incident reduce him to little more than a decoy sitting around as his once subordinate general colleagues invade Europe. Although, in the end, he gets to sweep through Europe with his 3rd Army in an impressive display of strategic genius. He arrives at the scene of a battle, the site of epic struggle and anonymous heroics, looks at it with intensity and confesses «I love it. God help me, I love it so. I love it more than my life.»

But the war, history tells us, came to an end, as all "good things" must. Towards this end, there's a scene where Oskar Steiger, the German captain who's been assigned to research Patton, holds his picture as the HQ is crumbling around him, examining the object of his fascination and admiration, while he whispers words of truth, a telling testament to the nature of a Warrior whose purpose is war: «He too will be destroyed. The absence of war will kill him... The pure warrior...a magnificent anachronism.»

Conclusion

Patton was a great albeit flawed man who was so taken by the glory of battle – the existential toils of war – that his life felt pointless without it. And with the end of the war came the inevitable realization - the yearning never stops. There is no one thing any man can ever do that will complete him, no woman he can marry, no ultimate feat of heroism that he can perform. Patton's downfall was that he had placed all his bets on the glory of war, having little concept of a life of meaning away from the battlefield.

For most modern men, however, the same principles that were guiding lights for Patton, are the ones we must integrate: The brotherhood, the personal sacrifice, the sense of dedication to something greater, all values rapidly disappearing from our culture. The warrior must be resurrected, excavated from the tombs of history, so that we can once more stand with head up high, firm in our conviction, eyes set on the horizon, and confront all the ills of the world. With compassion, yet without heroics.

The aftermath of the story is that Captain Steiger, in a way, turned out to be correct. Patton died from the injuries inflicted by a car crash later the same year. What with his life purpose no longer relevant, maybe that was fate giving him his final rest.

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Discuss Patton below:

  • http://www.tjensvoll.com Kjell Tjensvoll

    A great article about a great movie Eivind! The only thing missing is in my view, that you can’t talk about this movie without also talking about the performance of George C. Scott. This has to be one of the greatest performances of all time on the big screen. He was able to portrait General Patton – showing the whole spectre from the battle field to the lowest humiliation and he at least made me believe every bit of it.

  • http://www.masculinity-movies.com Eivind

    You are right, Kjell – amazing performance. I will probably amend the article with this in a later update.

    Glad you liked it. See you on Friday for the big launch.

    E

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