Enemy at the Gates – A Second Look At A Movie That Has Current Resonance

by Oletta Branstiter

You may have missed this 2001 war movie, as I had until last night.

I admit I chose this movie based on the cast of characters. Could Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins and Ron Perlman be associated with a failure?

Enemy at the Gates, written and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, was not a big hit at the box office. For a British movie produced at a cost of about $68 million, it grossed under $100 million worldwide. But timing is everything. Audiences may have had difficulty relating to this story when it was in theaters in the spring and summer of 2001, viewing it as just another blood and guts battle film.

Based on the true story of the WWII battle for Stalingrad and featuring a young Russian sniper hero named Vassili Zaitsev who learned precision hunting from his grandfather in the Ural Mountains, the message of this “War is Hell” movie hits you right between the eyes.

Like most titles, Enemy at the Gates has more than one meaning. The message plays out in various dramatic ways throughout the film.

Rated R for the prolific death scenes, the viewer can almost begin to smell by the end of the movie, it also contains a hot and heavy love scene between Law and Weisz, who plays Vassili’s love interest, Tania Chernova.

While compelling and historic, viewers may find the British accents a distraction. I have heard too many good actors affect Eastern European accents to excuse this stubborn oversight by the director and producers. Was it an effort to conflate British victory with Russian success in saving Stalingrad from the Nazis? For whatever reason, the decision to replace Russian and German accents with British and Cockney pronunciations was the only failure I recognized.

The drama of war plays out in every scene, throwing the audience into its brutality immediately after the opening credits. The movie never loses its intensity. In fact, the second half of the movie engrosses the viewer in the cat and mouse game between characters Zaitsev and equally skilled and cruel German Major König.

For viewers like me who see connections between movies and current events, the title of this movie is prophetic. Sixteen years after this movie was released, there are enemies at the gates everywhere we turn. This movie was in theaters before the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, so people who saw it viewed it in a context that did not include the escalating “lone wolf” terror attacks in American and European cities in the last few years.

At the end of the movie, Russian propagandist Commisar Danilov, played by Fiennes, admits that the false promises of Communism will never succeed.

 “I’ve been such a fool, Vassili. Man will always be a man. There is no new man. We tried so hard to create a society that was equal, where there’d be nothing to envy your neighbour. But there’s always something to envy. A smile, a friendship, something you don’t have and want to appropriate. In this world, even a Soviet one, there will always be rich and poor. Rich in gifts, poor in gifts. Rich in love, poor in love.”

The battle for Stalingrad represented two failed philosophies and the false dichotomy of choosing between the lesser of two evils.

The rise of Hitler and his Nazi agenda defined the evil opposition to Russia’s false utopia under Joseph Stalin:

“Posing as a bulwark against communism, Hitler exploited the fears aroused in Germany and worldwide by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the consolidation of communist power in the Soviet Union. Thus, he was able to secure the support of many conservative elements that misunderstood the totalitarian character of his movement.”

The word Nazi is an abbreviation for National Socialists.

After eight years of Progressive policies to redistribute wealth, specifically enacted through government control of the subject of health care, the socialistic road to Communism has been substantially paved through the United States Republic.

The election of an autocrat who deceived millions of voters into trading Patriotism for Nationalism sets our nation up for the same painful lesson that has already been tragically played out in history.

The enemy isn’t merely at our gates. We invited them in.

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