Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Starring: Christian Bale. Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies
(PG-13, 126 min.)
"Never, never, never give up!" Sir Winston Churchill
Despite its title, this film is less about being saved than saving yourself. It is a testament to the tenacity of hope and will set against a devouring jungle and numbing human deprivation.
The film is based on the true life adventure of Dieter Dengler, German born but with a bigger than life American persona, who miraculously escaped and survived his 1965 capture by the Pathet Lao when his plane crashed on a covert bombing mission over Laos. Ten years ago fellow German American Werner Herzog captured his story in a documentary called Little Dieter Needs to Fly, but obviously the story has so compelled Herzog that he decided to retell it again in a “more conventional narrative.”
And what distinguishes Rescue Dawn from other escape or war sagas is the gritty realism the demanding documentary director teases from his actors. Christian Bale shed some 40 pounds to become the gaunt Dieter, becoming a mere shadow of his bulked up Batman Begins frame. And he does all of his own stunts, not the least of which is eating, with apparent relish, a bowl full of worms and maggots, prison camp rations when the rice is scarce. And like other Herzog heroes, such as timothy Treadwell of Grizzly Man fame, Bales’s Dieter is not completely rational, his obsession with escaping the camp at odds with the chances of survival.
Steven Zhan, in a breakout performance, plays Duane Martin, a helicopter pilot who has already been there almost two years before Dieter’s arrival. Mostly known as a slightly addle brained comic buddy in such vehicles as Sahara, Zhan’s Martin has the stricken look and diminished bearing of a man who has had the life almost sucked out of him. Just gaze into his eyes in the above photo and you get an idea of his incredible performance here.
Jeremy Davies plays fellow American prisoner, Gene, whose emaciated body and fragile mental state reflect the years of daily indignities and casual brutality. Looking very much like the Charles Manson that Davies once portrayed for television, Gene projects an unhinged opposition to Dieter’s escape plan, one tinged with menace.
At first, to the brash newcomer, escape seems relatively easy, and Dieter can’t understand why the rag tag group has waited around so long hoping against hope that they will be released. Their rickety bamboo cell doesn’t present much of a challenge, and Dieter, a former locksmith, has fashioned a nail into a very workable skeleton key to pick the locks of their shackles. But it’s the jungle that is the real prison, that deceptively beautiful green Laotian landscape of rocky bluffs and lush growth, vines that tether a man as tightly as steel chains.
With the patriotism more often seen in those who adopt America by choice rather than birth, Dieter chooses July 4th for their very own Independence Day. He has waited almost six months for the rainy season essential to an escape survival, and the once well fed pilot now looks almost as haggard as his fellows.
Night after night, like some board game, they map out their escape plan, a takeover of the camp while the guards enjoy lunch and leave their rifles behind, secure in the knowledge that the prisoners are safely shackled.
But like most plans of mice and men, this one goes awry quite quickly, and soon it is only Dieter and Duane, both shoeless, doggedly hacking their way through the dense jungle in the vain hope that they can make it to Thailand. Much of the beauty here is Dieter’s devotion to Duane, who can barely go on, how he is true to this friend he has promised never to let down. Duane rides while Dieter pushes their makeshift raft through murky waters, and it is Duane who gets the found treasure, a discarded shoe sole he straps to his foot,
But what stays with you long after the screen has faded to black is the sheer will and determination that propels Dieter on each agonizing step
…to force (his) heart and nerve and sinew
To serve (his) turn long after they are gone,
And to hold on when there is nothing in you
But the will that say to them hold on.
In a time when too many are looking for easy answers and glib solutions, Rescue Dawn is a case study in the almost supernatural power of one man’s willl.
As the days drag on and the daily rice gives way to less appetizing forms of sustenance that wriggle in the bowl presented to them, Dieter and his fellow POW’s fill their stomachs in creative ways, each taking his turn to describe his fantasy refrigerator. Duane’s is replete with a turkey that would dwarf the usual Thanksgiving bird, stuffed to the hilt, as well as muffins and blueberry pancakes drenched in syrup, and finally a beautiful blueberry pie. I guess when you are really starving, the allure of sweets is even stronger.
Please enjoy this luscious Fresh Blueberry Pie, just the season to find plenty of fresh ones. And if your sweet tooth is not yet sated, visit the recipe archives (in upper left) to find a dessert list to die for, ranging from Apple Crepes a la Mode, to Crème Brulee with Fresh Raspberries, Custard Tarts, Drunken Strawberries, Lotus Seed Mooncakes, and Plum Sorbet, to name a few.
Fresh Blueberry Pie
This uses half cooked and half fresh blueberries for a unique flavor.
1 prepared 8 inch pastry shell, baked and cooled
2 pints fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup white sugar
Pour one pint of the blueberries into the baked pie shell.
Combine flour, butter, lemon juice and sugar. Mix thoroughly. Add the remaining pint of blueberries and bring just to a boil over medium heat. Berries should begin to pop open.
Pour cooked berries over fresh berries. Chill pie and serve with whipped cream.
Recipe Source: Nancy Fields