Gettysburg (1993)


Our rating: 3 out of 5

Rated: PG

reviewed by: Erin Daman

Gettysburg is the most famous Civil War battle -- it was crucial in the winning if the war.  But how much about it do we really know?  What do we know about the personal lives of those most deeply embedded in this pivotal point in history?  And how many of us have learned its story from unbiased perspectives of both the North and the South?  No matter how much you know about the battle of Gettysburg, it will still come powerfully alive before you as you gain a new understanding of it through this epic film.  Gettysburg is an ideal way to experience the reality of this well-known but not so well understood battle. 


And now a little background information: both the North and the South want to take possession of the small Pennsylvania town, for though it is small in size its location is something to be coveted.  Southern general Lees army of North Virginia has crossed the Potomac and begun the march toward Pennsylvania, threatening Harrisburg, the state capitol, as well as such important cities as Philadelphia and Baltimore, Maryland.  Government leaders in Washington D.C. were even concerned for the capitol there.  The Northern army, led by commander George G. Meade, headed northward to cut off Lee's army.  When these two great military forces collide, fierce battle is to be expected. 


To be frank, its difficult to very well outline the plot of this film; it moves back and forth from the Southern camp to the Northern, so you know exactly what is happening behind the lines of both sides.  Through this unique and effective method, you come to know the motives and reasoning behind this famed battle. Though Gettysburg is fact-based, and from all I've read of this battle, painstakingly accurate, there is no lack of emotion.  The first two hours of this four hour epic are spent before the battle actually starts.  In these two hours, you come to know, respect and admire the people who before had only been names in a history book.  Names such as Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlin, and Armistead come powerfully to life as God-fearing, awe-inspiring leaders with no lack of human emotion. 


The first two hours of this film are absolutely vital in establishing the backdrop of the battle.  You become thoroughly engrossed in each characters life, background, and emotions.  This adds ever so much more to the rest of the movie; you become entranced with it, hoping and praying the men you root for don't fall victim to the horrors of war.  The battle doesn't actually start until the second half of the movie but as the battle intensifies, so too does the emotion and by the time the credits roll, you will never be able to think of the battle of Gettysburg in the same way again. I am pleased to report there is absolutely no sensuality of any kind in this movie.  There is quite a bit of language but most of it is rather mild and almost all of it is in the first two hours.  31 uses of d-mn, 11 misuses of the word hell, one strong swear word, and 5 misuses of our Lords name.  But there are many honoring, respectful uses of Gods name in prayers and the religion of many of the main characters plays a large part in the movie.  Such great men as Lee, Longstreet, Chamberlin, and Armistead are accurately portrayed as Godly men.  Many prayers are lifted up to the Keeper of men souls, especially by Lee.


There is, of course, violence; this is a war movie but it does not glorify or depend on violence and it is neither gory nor graphic but shown briefly and handled tactfully.  The movie doesn't seem to add in any excess violence; only what was needed for realism and accuracy.  Trail Reeves, a movie reviewer on Christian Spotlight on the Movies, put it so well, I just had to include it: While there is the violence one would expect with a movie about the Civil War, the characters are deep enough to overshadow the actual battle.  The battle is the setting, not the plot. 


Violence is the most disturbing in its forms of bayonet combat, close range shooting in various attacks and explosions leaving maimed soldiers scattered on the field.  The most disturbing scenes are in the field hospitals, but they are brief and not overly gory. Though this movie does contain language and violence, there are a few aspects that are so moving, they more than compensate for any offenses.  There are many beautiful, heart-stirring, poignant speeches made, speeches to encourage and motivate the troops, speeches to secure their loyalty, speeches made on ethnics, and the causes and evils of war, and speeches to comfort loss that never fail to deeply touch the heart and leave the viewer with many thoughts to ponder over. 


The acting was positively superb.  I recognized several of the actors and can say in all honesty, it was the performance of their lives.  Acting like I have never seen before is present all throughout Gettysburg. This film is by no means funny, but when there is humor, it is timely, well spoken, extremely witty, and provides a welcome smile among the more serious tones of the movie. But the crowning glory of this epic is its absolutely unforgettable soundtrack.  Music so stirring and with such depth and emotion, that it is rivaled only by soundtracks such as Lorna Doone and Little Women. All in all, a brilliantly done film but as Gettysburg is very deep and intense and you must pay attention quite closely, children will not get much out this film.  But for 12 on up it is a journey you will never forget, well worth the four hours it spans.  But bring a hankie and be prepared for Gettysburg to occupy your thoughts for days to come.