Saving Private Ryan - Success, Leadership and Ethics
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Its realistic portrayal of the 1944 D-Day
invasion of France by the Americans on Omaha Beach (pictured right below).
France, 1944, during World War Two.
Steven Spielberg (pictured right below) - also the director of other great films like:
Five including best director.
John Miller (Tom Hanks), army officer (pictured right).
James Ryan (Matt Damon), soldier.
Timothy Upham (Jeremy Davies), army translator.
Along with his family, James Ryan visits the war grave of Captain John Miller who saved him
during World War Two. Filled with emotion, he looks back to the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.
Anxious American soldiers (some of whom are vomiting from fear and seasickness) land from their boat on
Omaha Beach, Normandy in Northern France.
They are mown down by German machine gunfire. The carnage and roar of the battle are horrific, but a small group
of soldiers, led by their commanding officer, Captain John Miller, manage to
At the American army headquarters in Washington, it is discovered that three brothers of the
Ryan family have been killed within days of each other.
Inspired by President Abraham Lincoln’s
compassionate letter to a bereaved mother in the American Civil War, General George Marshall
(pictured right ) orders the fourth remaining brother (Private James Ryan) should be:
Captain Miller is told to carry out this mission three days after D-Day, helped by:
- a non-combatant translator (Corporal Upham).
After finding another soldier called Ryan, one of the group (Doc Wade) is killed by a German
machine gunner, whom they capture and want to kill. But Miller decides to blindfold him and let him
They eventually find Private Ryan (pictured right), but he:
- refuses to leave his comrades.
- helps them defend a vital bridge.
Reluctantly Miller also stays to help. American casualties are high from a German attack led by two tanks.
- fails in his duty to provide extra ammunition.
- later captures a squad of Germans (killing the gunner who has just killed Miller).
Ironically it is the soldier Miller released earlier.
Before he dies, Miller gives Private Ryan a mission for life - to “earn” the lives lost in
saving him (pictured right).
The film finishes with the old Ryan at Miller’s grave. He is reassured by his wife that he has:
- successfully carried out Miller’s wishes for him.
Lessons for success, leadership and ethics
1. Some things are worth dying for
The Americans are fighting and dying for freedom from Nazi tyranny and barbarism.
Abraham Lincoln’s (pictured right) wartime
letter to the bereaved mother ends:
“The solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of
Even in war Miller is determined to do what’s right, releasing the German gunner.
But the German finally kills Miller, showing that moral choices are far from
Perhaps Miller should have killed him earlier, but the mercy he showed is still much to be
3. War is horrific
The film shows how gruesome and dehumanizing war is.
Miller (an English schoolteacher) and Upham are educated men who struggle with:
- the thought of killing people.
- their separation from home and the love of family.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much, my wife is even gonna recognize me”, Miller says.
Upham is pictured right comforting a frightenened French girl.
4. Make your life worthwhile
Miller tells Ryan that he should lead a good life and so justify the deaths of his
5. Integrity inspires
Miller (pictured right with Private Ryan) inspires his men to do great things by:
- treating them with fairness and respect.
- leading by example (he bravely fights the Germans from the front).
6. Face a crisis with courage and determination
D-Day is terrifying for the soldiers, but they
courageously overcome their fear of death and injury.
7. Do your duty
Miller and his men risk their lives to save Ryan.
Miller tells his men:
“We all have orders, and we have to follow 'em. That supersedes everything, including your
Key quotes on
I just know that every man I kill, the farther away from home I feel, Miller.
He better be worth it. He better cure a disease or invent a longer lasting light bulb, Miller
(talking about Ryan)
Key quote on marriage
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much, my wife is even gonna recognize me, Miller.
Key quote on leadership
We all have orders, and we have to follow 'em. That supersedes everything, including your mothers,
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)