Memorial Day 1956 Movie Thoughts

Paul Newman
‘The Rack”
1952

In the 1956 poorly named movie, “The Rack”, a young Paul Newman plays a US Army Captain returning from Korea as both a Silver Star winner and an accused collaborator with the enemy during his finishing stay in a concentration camp. From the way it struck me from a first viewing on TCM this Memorial Day Saturday, something like “Heroic Demise” really might’ve worked better.

The movie struck a chord with Memorial Day, but it also landed upon a major theme of pain that people have been bringing to my office in spades for close to fifty years:

We’re talking here about the pain of some unresolved regret a person may have been carrying with them for much of their lives for a critical choice they made years earlier about career, marriage, family, finance, friendship, or whatever.

At the end of the movie, Newman is found guilty of helping the Chinese captors and has accepted responsibility for his failure to overcome personal selfishness. I have taken the liberty of expanding his mostly soldier-context parting speech and taken it further than he did in his efforts to show how the lesson applies to all of us:

Here are what Newman’s writers and I came up with together:

“Everyone has a moment in life in which they have to choose. If he or she chooses right, it is then a moment of magnificence. If he or she chooses wrong, then it is a moment of regret that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

 “I wish that everyone could feel as I do now. Because if they did, they would then know what it feels like to be a man who sold himself short – and who lost that personal moment of magnificence forever.

 “I pray to God that others shall recognize their own moment of magnificence when it is the next opportunity resting before them – and choose well. The penalty for not doing so – because of whatever selfish motivation gets in the way at the time – is the implantation of an irresolvable state of regret in the tar pits of the mind of – something or someone – that is forever now missing from your life.”

Based upon Paul Newman’s character in the movie ‘The Rack’.

 __________

 I would never suggest that all regret is resolvable. In the movie, in fact, Newman’s character quickly does away with any defense based upon the idea that his Chinese Communist characters had mind-washed him into it. He did it because he had missed the opportunity to make the magnificent decision to stand up to them. His regret would be forever. His years of incarceration at home would be justified, but even those would never make up for what he had lost in the process.

In many instances, however, we do have the power to rid ourselves of much garbage about the past if we are both willing to take as much responsibility for our own actions – and if we are willing to make amends for any harm we may have created by something we did – or failed to do – a very long time ago.

We are all human. And none of us are perfect. But try hard to remember too: (1) We cannot be guaranteed forgiveness by others; we only control our ability to seek it, when to do so, will not simply hurt others or make things worse; and (2) We have to be equally capable of holding ourselves accountable as we are about forgiving ourselves in the name of human frailty. Otherwise, all’s a waste of time and energy.

__________

 Happy Memorial Day Weekend

To All the Military Men and Women

Who Serve Our Beautiful USA!

__________


Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

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One Response to “Memorial Day 1956 Movie Thoughts”

  1. Wayne Roberts Says:

    Odd but interesting choice for Memorial Day weekend. Two sayings, near quotes and by whom originally I don’t know. Certainly not me. The first is “you are what you are plus circumstance”. The most heroic and courageous among us may never be recognized unless an event in which we’re involved is seen or felt by others occurs. The obverse is true as well. Of course, a circumstance may never occur at all…luck of the dice.

    The second, and one I employ frequently as the director of an agency, is “You pays your money and you makes your choice.” Decisions are made with the best available information at hand at the time. That information is often imperfect. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

    Go Astros.

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