WGTC Weekly Throwdown: Saddest Cinematic Deaths

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Nato – Captain Miller (Saving Private Ryan)

If you have a heart, a soul, a love for this country, and a f#cking shred of decency, then you cry like a baby every time Tom Hanks is gunned down in a blaze of glory at the end of Saving Private Ryan.

I’ll be honest, I get choked-up during the most random times, be it Joseph Gordon-Levitt talking to his dad right before surgery in 50/50 or more prominently mentally unstable characters trying to function in normal life (I Am Sam for example), but Captain John Miller’s death takes the cake when discussing the saddest on-screen movie deaths.

You can keep your P.S. I Love You arguments and animated movie deaths, because Captain Miller is a true American hero whom every citizen should model their life after. In his normal line of work, before gearing up for World War II, Miller was nothing but a simple English teacher, molding the minds of children. No one could suspect such a fearless and decorated soldier had such a mundane day job, but in battle, Captain Miller has literally no care for his own life – only the ones that surround him, but still manages to pluck our heartstrings by mentioning fond memories of his wife waiting at home, making his death all the more meaningful yet tragic.

Think about the mission he takes on. The whole point in saving Ryan is to spare his poor mother from losing her fourth son to the war, as we learn all three of Private Ryan’s brothers had died within days of each other and their mother would receive all three letters at once. A heart-wrenching scenario to take, Miller gathers a small group of individuals and marches into both allied and enemy territories to look for Ryan and return him home safely – even though no one has any idea were the private in question is located. Hell-bent on finding Private Ryan, Miller knows his mission is far greater than any military-based operation, and that a family hangs in the balance based upon whether he can complete his task successfully.

Sure, other soldiers lose their lives along the way, from Vin Diesel’s character getting sniped to Barry Pepper’s character getting blown up by a tank, but when Captain Miller goes down, your heart just sinks. Every soldier in battle has to be prepared for the worst, in this case death, but no man accepts that more than Miller. He never regrets for a second giving his life to save Private Ryan, and this is reflected when he whispers “James…earn this. Earn it.” Miller cared not if he lived or died, only that he could die with the satisfaction of knowing Mrs. Ryan could be consoled by her last surviving son, and he basically tells Ryan to make his sacrifice worth it. Triumphantly fearless heroics – what else is there to say?

Fast-Forward to James Ryan standing over the grave of Captain Miller with his wife. He asks her to confirm that he has led a good life and that he is a “good man,” making the sacrifices by Miller and his men worth it. One final salute to Miller’s grave right before the film ends all but ensures the water-works are turned on, and there you have the saddest cinematic death in any movie.

Hoo-rah Captain Miller, hoo-rah.

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