“And then all this happened…”
Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) in Pearl Harbor (2001)
The “this” that Evelyn Johnson is referring to is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. You know, the date will live in infamy. The attack that caused the United States to enter World War II and, as a result, eventually led to collapse of the Axis Powers. The attack that left over 2,000 men died and 1,178 wounded. That attack.
In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, that attack is just one of the many complications in the romance between Danny (Ben Affleck), his best friend Rafe (Josh Hartnett), and Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale). The other complications include Danny briefly being listed as dead, Danny being dyslexic before anyone knew what dyslexia was (and yet, later, he’s still seen reading and writing letters with absolutely no trouble, almost as if the filmmakers forgot they had made such a big deal about him not being able to do so), and the fact that Rafe really, really likes Evelyn. Of course, the main complication to their romance is that this is a Michael Bay film and he won’t stop moving the camera long enough for anyone to have a genuine emotion.
I imagine that Pearl Harbor was an attempt to duplicate the success of Titanic, by setting an extremely predictable love story against the backdrop of a real-life historical tragedy. Say what you will about Titanic (and there are certain lines in that film that, when I rehear them today, make me cringe), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had genuine chemistry. None of that chemistry is present in Pearl Harbor. You don’t believe, for a second, that Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are lifelong friends. You don’t believe that Kate Beckinsale is torn between the two of them. Instead, you just feel like you’re watching three actors who are struggling to give a performance when they’re being directed by a director who is more interested in blowing people up than in getting to know them.
Continuing the Titanic comparison, Pearl Harbor‘s script absolutely sucks. Along with that line about “all this” happening, there’s also a scene where Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight) reacts to his cabinet’s skepticism by rising to his feet and announcing that if he, a man famously crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair, can stand up, then America can win a war.
I’ve actually been to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. I have gone to the USS Arizona Memorial. I have stood and stared down at the remains of the ship resting below the surface of the ocean. It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling site, one that leaves you very aware that over a thousand men lost their lives when the Arizona sank.
I have also seen the wall which lists the name of everyone who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor and until you’ve actually been there and you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you really can’t understand just how overwhelming it all is. The picture below was taken by my sister, Erin.