Cinerama: U-571

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Cinerama

By Mike Derderian

A terrible silence ensued after a round of depth charges exploded close to the submarine’s body. The anxious crewmen, including me, believed that was the end. Not being able to see our hunters, the only sound we were able to listen to, in addition to the rapid beating of our hearts, was the silent humming of our submarine’s propeller, and the appalling echo of the sea water pressing against it’s frame. The naval destroyer’s sonar ominously beeped, reminding us that at any moment the submarine’s metallic hull will burst open flooding us with ten-thousand tons of freezing water.

On the surface, men who were from a hostile country were trying to pinpoint our location in order to blow us into bits and pieces, while 200 meters below we were simply trying to survive such an ill fate. “My head went blank, as if someone held a rubber and decided to erase my memory; there must be a way to escape them.”

Ensign Hans warned me that a new batch of depth charges were thrust into the water by the relentless destroyer. The nearby pressure resulting from the muted explosion almost split the hull wide open right from the middle. Suddenly my nervous ensign yelled out, “Oh, my God Captain it’s dropping right at us.”

Those were the last words I heard before a strong torrent of water flooded our vessel. I remembered how even as a child I hated cold water. At the very same moment I heard a distant voice. “Wake up, wake up captain…wake up son you have to be at work at 9:30?”

To my astonishment there was no destroyer and no U-boat (submarine) but there was definitely water. My mother was pouring a glass of cold water on my head pretending she was washing the window. She could have at least warmed it a little bit, wouldn’t you agree! A glass of water, that’s what it takes nowadays to wake up a person after a long night of watching a hardcore World War II film entitled U-571, which is by the way about a submarine.

As you read the end credits of U-571, a lot of notions will come to your mind regarding ideology, war, courage and even faith. But since this column is ‘originally’ about films, I’ll stick to this notion: great film.

But before we get into a cinematic analysis here is a notion that has been floating in the cerebral fluids of my mind thanks to one scene in the film: Are we so dumb to realize that we all pray to the same God as we head for battle. There is no “us and them” in religion during war. All our prayers are directed to the same omnipotent Allah. Like a soldier’s prayer to God is the same as his enemy’s: “Grant us victory to exalt thine Name and vanquish our enemies.” Sadly the case, nowadays we head to war with a reason other than the word of God: Pure hoggish greed.

Written and directed by Jonathan Mostow, the U-571 plot is based on a factual incident that took place during WWII. The allies (the Americans and the British) are trying to acquire the Enigma code machine that was used by Germans to cipher their communiqués especially the ones that includes the naval orders sent to their submarines and ships. The crew of an American submarine are given orders to capture the code machine directly from a German U-boat and by doing so they can decipher the German communiqués and pin point the location of every existing U-boat at the sea and foil their plans.

The crew of the American submarine has to masquerade as Germans and board the U-571; as always things go wrong and they end up using it to return to England after their own was destroyed.

Sounds convincing, right? Wrong, Americans had nothing to do with the capture of the Enigma code machine and luckily Mostow acknowledged that at the end of the film. If you want to know who did it, all you have to do is read the end credits. The first Enigma code machine and codebooks were actually taken from U-110 by the British Navy in August 1941.

Starring a talented cast led by Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi, David Keith and Thomas Kretschmann, U-571 is a film that will send more than cold chills right down your spine. When you decide to watch it alone, be careful not to get wet for submarines sometimes leak water.

PS: I’ll continue next week with the list of best submarines flicks and underwater adventures ever made.


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