“The Patriot” (2000) by Roland Emmerich

Directed by Roland Emmerich, The Patriot (2000) is an American Revolutionary War film. The setting of the film is in South Carolina during the American Revolution in 1776. Written by Robert Rodat, the film narrates the story of a farmer in South Carolina called Benjamin Martin. Martin is a widower and a former soldier whose earlier experience in the unspeakable French-Indian War has changed his perspectives regarding the value of war. As a result, he is disinclined to participant in a war against the British Dragoons. However, his son joined the Continental army. Martin is compelled to make a decision when British troops burn his home and kill a part of his family. Martin becomes the leader of a local militia that makes efforts to fight the British army. Together with the militia, Martin cuts the British’s supply lines and attacks their garrison. They play a vital role in defeating their adversaries in South Carolina. This leads to the surrender of General Cornwallis, after which he leads his troop back home. This paper examines the accuracy of the historical interpretation presented in each film, why the film producers presented the story in its form, and what the film portrays regarding the era and environment in which the film was created. It is argued that although not historically accurate, The Patriot relies on the American Revolution in South Carolina as a setting to provide a narrative of the war and its effects on a fictional family.

Figure 1. Image of the American Revolution showing the atrocities and brutalities (Adapted from Howardzinn.org)

What the story says about the era and environment it was created

What appears to add credibleness of the film to its historical accuracy are the sets and sceneries in the film that are consistent with the historical context of the American Revolution. The characters and villages in the film all pass on an impression of the American Revolution. The existence of forts during the American Revolution (1765-1783), such as in the case of Fort Carolina, reflects the historical setting of the Revolutionary War. For instance, the British constructed numerous forts using earthwork and fortified them with pickets around plantation houses (Rubin 1-5).

The events depicted in the film truly reflect what happened during the American Revolution. In the same way, as depicted in the film, the American Revolution was characterized by a series of destruction of property and murders, justice at the hands of militia or vigilantes, a tendency to mistreat prisoners. Indeed, as explained by Rubin, the American Revolution was violent event characterized by absolute atrocities, which escalated from 1780 and 1781 in parts of South Carolina and Georgia. The two settings are well represented in the film. The high level of brutality depicted in the film, including the killing of Martin’s family, is consistent with what happened during the Revolution. As Rubin (1-5) explains, it is expected that such forms of brutalities would be included in a narrative as the American Revolution is largely associated with brutalities and conceptions of “good” versus “evil.” In the film, it appears that seeking rhetoric of revenge remained the most powerful driver for Martin’s participation in the War.

The characters in the film represent some dominant characters of the American Revolution. The film producers’ decision to bring in Martin as the main characters make the film particularly credible. Similar characters dominated the American Revolution. For instance, Martin appeared to represent historical characters like Thomas Young and Anthony Allaire and was quite similar. Like Martin, Young volunteered to fight against usurpers who were a threat to his country. As Rubin (2-5) records, Young had risked own life to lead a band of vigilantes that fought at the battle of King’s Mountain on October 14, 1780. Young fought for the Whig or Tories cause during the American Revolution and made his atrocities meaningful, in spite of actually going to seek revenge. Martin also reflects other characters like Francis Marion, popularly known as the “Swamp Fox” (Mulloy 64). In the same way as Marion, Martin had made his headquarters in an isolated place in a swampy area. They also entered the war as active participants after the British had burned down plantations and their homes.

The accuracy of the historical interpretation presented in the film

The Pilot does not depict historical accuracy to effectively interpret extensive themes in details regarding the war campaign in the South. While the film attempts to depict the atrocities committed during the Revolutionary War accurately, the high level of exaggeration demeans the level of historical accuracy it presents to its audience. Although it is historically correct that Tarleton and other British commander did burn villages while heading to South Carolina in their pursuit of rebels, there appears to be no historical evidence showing that they executed women, children and wounded prisoners or prisoners of war (Rubin 1-5). In the same way as the atrocities that prevail in the film, Rubin (2-4) argues that it is significant to give recognition for the issues of atrocities that should be taken into consideration to understand rhetorical constructions in an American Revolution narrative effectively.

The producers of The Pilot exaggerated certain events in their attempt to provide a historical account in the film, particularly an account of the atrocities. However, this is also expected for a filmic narrative. Indeed, as Rubin (2-5) explained, most of the atrocities that happened in the American Revolution, particularly South fall basically into three categories: exaggerated, real and imagined. The film assumed the “exaggerated” category. Among the most significant shortcoming of The Patriot is that it attempted to omit the role of the Loyalists. Historically, a large number of the people who live in Carolinas and Georgia were loyalists, even as the fighting was mostly a civil war that involved the Whigs and Tories. While the Loyalist’s militia units made up nearly 50 percent of the British army in the South, The Patriot only attempted to show Captain Wilkins to be the only Loyalist soldier in Colonel Tavington’s platoon, which was commanded by Banastre Tarleton. However, the film exaggerates the atrocities that Tavington and his soldiers committed, particularly when they execute the wounded Continentals and burn his Martin’s plantation. They also killed slaves who were uncooperative. Tavington is supposed to depict Banastre Tarleton who in real life was a callous officer yet actually never committed atrocities of the kind portrayed in the film. Indeed, the only recorded one in history that Tarleton committed is the Waxhaws Massacre, which happened on May 29, 1780, when he and his legion attacked Virginia Continentals.

 

Why the filmmakers presented the story in its current form

The makers of the film deliberately avoided certain historically significant details to make the film more interesting to the audience and to stick to the key themes that could make it authentic in the eyes of the audience. Evidently, the entertainment aspects seem to have served as the producers’ priority over the learning dimension. For filmmakers, making a film as compelling as possible appears to have been a definite priority (Rubin 1-5). Indeed, it could also be argued that the filmmakers integrated such exaggerations while aiming to embolden certain themes, such as good and evil. For instance, the film mostly portrays Martin as a hero and omits some clear historical truths that he was slave-owner who is said to have molested her female black slaves. This seems to bring about the theme of “good over evil.” The film maker’s decision to demonize the British was mainly to provide a controversial angle to the film that would make it entertaining. For instance, the film’s determination to portray the horrendous acts committed by Tavington and the British legion seemed to underscore the theme of “evil.” It also appears that some inaccuracies were integrated to bring about an impression of authenticity. For instance, while Tavington wears a red coat, Tarleton wore green coats. Additionally, the 18th-century ink was mainly black, all the documents portrayed in the film are written in brown ink. This inconsistencies and change of names are supposed to make the film authentic, by providing it with an impression of originality (Fischer 1).

Conclusion

Although far from being historically accurate, The Patriot relies on the American Revolution in South Carolina as a setting to provide a narrative of the war and its effects on a fictional family. The film does not depict historical accuracy to effectively interpret extensive themes in details regarding the war campaign in the South. Among the most significant shortcoming of the film is that it attempted to omit the role of the Loyalists. Evidently, the entertainment aspects seem to have served as the producers’ priority over the learning dimension. Additionally, the makers of the film deliberately avoided certain historically significant details to make the film more interesting to the audience and to stick to the key themes that could make it authentic in the eyes of the audience. The film maker’s decision to demonize the British was mainly to provide a controversial angle to the film that would make it entertaining.  Finally, what appears to add credibleness of the film to its historical accuracy are the sets and sceneries in the film that are consistent with the historical context of the American Revolution.

 

Annotated Bibliography

Fischer, David. “Hubris, But No History.” The New York Times, 1 July 2000. 21 Mar 2018, <http://www.nytimes.com/2000/07/01/opinion/hubris-but-no-history.html>

The author describes “The Patriot” in detail. However, the description is largely intended to justify why the film portrays Martin as a hero and what compelled him to join the American Revolution. The author also attempts to highlight some of the historical inaccuracies of the film and how they make the film authentic. This makes the article relevant, as a source of data.

George, William. “The Patriot: Movie Review.” Journal of American History 87.3 (n.d.): 1.

The author presents a review of The Patriot. Much of his review is based on an interview with the main Actors Mel Gibson. He tackled the deficiencies of the movie in failing to meet the historical facts, including by portraying the British troops are callously ruthless which contradicts historical accounts. He also demonstrates why the film producers mostly prioritized on making the film as entertaining as possible. This makes it relevant to the research paper.

Mulloy, Darren. “American Extremism: History, Politics and the Militia Movement.” Routledge: New York, 2004.

The author provides a review of The Patriot. He attempted to compare Martin, the hero in the Patriot, with historical characters like Martin Marion and Daniel Morgan. The author also attempts to explore how features of the movie are consistent with the American Revolution. This provides relevant data for analysis of the characters in the film.

Rubin, Ben. “The Rhetoric of Revenge: Atrocity and Identity in the Revolutionary Carolinas.” Journal of Backcountry Studies, 21 Mar 2018, <http://libjournal.uncg.edu/jbc/article/download/102/84>

The author discusses the atrocities in the American Revolution, particularly in Carolinas. He compared how the atrocities are depicted in the film and American history. He identifies some exaggerations made in the film leading to his conclusion that the film is historically inaccurate. This provides relevant data for examining the historical accuracy of the film.

 

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