The famous rant by Colonel Jessep (Nicholson) from A Few Good Men:
You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.
Nicholson is able project a charismatic mix of steely conviction with righteousness and psychotic tendencies. He’s homely in a rather attractive sense but his rubber play mask of a face often seems on the brink of either maniacal rage or maniacal laughter…with the understanding that the differences are tiny.
That whole movie left me cold, there was something trite about it and the casting of the oh so cute JAG’s and the oh so over wrought marines was perhaps clever, the setting clever, the words….clever, but what was it all about?
It was all about the delivery of that one monologue and its delivery by someone who was clearly, if only slightly, over the edge, in a place that should not exist.
The movie provided depth to the speech that twists the highest meanings of honor and service into dark and dangerous threats curdled in a place and circumstance that are wholly unnecessary.
And this was long before Guantanamo took on its current gray mantle.
This can be seen as the most powerful anti war movie (without any action) that has ever been created because it says that the things a person has to take on to become a combatant are manipulations and most likely the rational behind it is a lie and the urge to protect, more about power and privilege than caring.
And yet…and yet…I came away with the weird sense, I think intentionally that Jessep was more hero than villain and the JAGs more (minor) villains than heroes though they were heroes and he was a villain who needed stopping.
In ghostly profile behind Jessep, I see Patton, Stonewall Jackson, Sherman and others, who were in their ways just as nuts, In an alternate to his fictional world Jessep could have been a great hero and the JAGS might have been slimy villains.
Was any of this the original intent? Probably and if so its probably great art, in the sense of great playwright’s work and great casting, not so much cinematography or directing or acting on anyone’s part other than Nicholson’s.
A Few Good Men and the strange mirrors it casts are more apropos today than they could conceivably have been when it was made. This movie made today, set in Iraq, Afghanistan or any one of a hundred other places, would not work as well and would create a firestorm of debate but then vanish.
It has been left alone because it says more, more subtly the way it is than it could possibly say if redone in a contemporary venue. And anyone who tried to remake it would be unable to create the remarkably fine balance that it drew between hero and villain on both sides.