Wind Talkers Film Review
The movie ‘Wind Talkers’, directed by John Woo, was released on June 12, 2002. This movie is about the famous Navajo Native speakers who used a secret code during World War II to communicate and coordinate attacks of the war. This code got the name Navajo Code, and the speakers – Navajo code talkers. The code was useful because the enemies never succeeded in translating the code so that they could preempt attacks from American soldiers. The Navajo code was based on two parts: the native Navajo language that was notoriously complex and difficult to to learn, and the code itself that was entrenched in the language.The Navajo code was difficult even to other native speakers and they would get confused when they tried to interpret it. The Navajo code was so difficult that only a few trained native speakers could learn it and use it in war situations. It was simply unbreakable. The movie is based in the battlefield and the main theme was, supposedly, the code talkers, but, unfortunately, it was not.
The director used the Navajo characters sparingly and they only appeared as supporting roles. This attracted a lot of criticism because the main plot was about white bodyguards selected to make sure that the code talkers were never captured by the enemy and if that ever happened, they were ordered to kill themselves. Although it is a fictional story based movie, the director’s choice of using the Navajo code talkers as supporting roles was wrong. This paper will highlight the movie’s failure to tell the Navajo code talkers story as the primary focus and plot.
The film is centered on Corporal Joe Enders – a decorated US marine who returns to duty after surviving a deadly battle against the Japanese Army that exterminated his entire squad. He also survived a gruesome grenade explosion that left him nearly deaf. His pharmacist Rita helped him to get back to duty. Cpl. Enders and Sgt. Ox Anderson are assigned the duty of protecting the Navajo code talkers at all cost. The two code talkers are Pvt. Ben Yahzee and Pvt. Charlie Whitehorse. Enders becomes frustrated with his new duties but he gradually starts to respect the code talkers and their worth during the battle to conquer Saipan. Ender and the other code talkers are deployed in the frontline of the battle and use their specific codes to defeat the enemies and crack other codes used by their enemies. The two code talkers, Whitehorse and Yahzee, are lifelong friends who come from the same native Navajo tribe. They are trained to direct their US marines’ counterparts who navigate the battleships to bombard Japanese targets using their secret codes. They learn how to send and receive coded messages and soon they are sent to their first combat experience when they join the squad that invades Saipan. After securing the beachhead, the US Marines come and Yahzee’s radio is destroyed by friendly fire from the US artillery so they are unable to communicate with them to call of the shelling. This forces Yahzee to disguise himself as a Japanese soldier and he takes Enders as a prisoner so that he could infiltrate the enemy lines and get a radio. During this time, Enders kills several Japanese soldiers and Yahzee slays for the first time a Japanese radioman, he successfully communicates with the US marines to redirect their shelling towards Japanese targets. The next day the Japanese raid the US marine camp and decapitate Anderson who is now unable to protect his wind talker. Enders sees that Whitehorse is about to be captured and is forced to do what he was ordered – to kill him instead of letting him be captured. He throws a grenade that kills both the Japanese captors and Whitehorse. Before he throws the grenade, he first gets a node from Whitehorse.
This shows the length at which the code talkers were willing to protect the American marines and to ensure that the enemy is defeated. The director should have, at least, centered the plot around them so that the viewers could get a closer look into their family life and lifestyle. Yahzee, who was back at the headquarters when his lifelong friend was killed, learns that Enders was responsible in killing his friend which outrages him. He even points a gun at Enders but cannot do it. Later they are mobilized to go to another mission where they are again ambushed and Yahzee and Enders are both shot. Enders takes a bullet through his chest as he carries Yahzee to safety. He tells Yahzee with his last breath that he never wanted to kill Whitehorse and his mission was primarily to save the code above everything else. Back in America, Yahzee performs the Navajo ritual that pays respect for somebody who saved his life. He does this with his wife and son on top of Point Mesa in Arizona.
The importance of the wind talkers cannot be denied but the directive to kill the wind talkers if they are at risk of being captured by the enemy provides a negative aspect. This directive undermines their work and makes them appear dispensable and of no importance. This theme is seen throughout the movie and the director portrays the wind talkers as just supporting casts. The director puts more significance to the battlefield and centers the plot on a white character instead of the Navajo Indians. Wind talkers advertisements showed that it was the awaited saga of how Navajo Indians played an important role during the World War II. The use of their native language codes ensured that the US won the war in the Pacific region. However, it was filled with excess footage of gruesome battle scenes with very little dialogue that would tell the Navajo story. The good story that was behind the movie was buried by these battlefield clich?s. An important question comes up: why the Navajo story film has to be told by a white character (Nicolas Cage) instead of the real Navajo Indians. The director failed when he decided to make it a big budget film that incorporated a major star who earns big bucks. He should have made it a simple story that depicted the life of the Navajo Indians and the significant role they played during the war. Use of stunt men, explosions and many dead bodies took away the chance of telling the Navajo Indians story.
The battlefields are full of screaming Japanese maniacs who run headfirst into American fire. The ratio of dead Japanese soldiers to the US marines is almost 50 to 1. The director devotes very little time to the Navajo code talkers and the only time we see them is when they are coordinating attacks against the Japanese. The proper way of showing the Navajo Indian code talkers was not by making huge budget films, but by going the route of a low budget picture that focused on Navajo characters and their day-to-day issues. Unfortunately, the director focuses on the difficult, half-crazed Enders. This movie was an action packed movie rather than a story. It is a disservice to the Navajo men who went into the battlefield to fight for the US during the war (Utter, 2001). The directors failed to honor them by using them marginally as supporting characters. During the war, the Navajo code coordinated attacks that made the US win the war in the Pacific. This was due to how difficult the code was and Wind talkers should have been pictured better. Sadly, they never gave the Navajo Indians the credit they deserved and that makes the whole intention of showing the Navajo code talkers story just a gimmick. The code talkers made it possible for Americans to win many battles (Durrett, 2009). During the Battle of Iwo Jima, six code talkers were used and they worked round the clock.
They were able to receive and send over 800 messages and none had an error. Their skills, accuracy, and speed were evident throughout the World War II. Major Howard Connor, who commandeered the fifth Marine Division in Iwo Jima, was heard saying, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima”, this is recorded in the Naval Historical Center, Navajo Code Talkers: World War II Fact Sheet. The Navajo code was officially developed and incorporated on the Joint Army and Navy Phonetic Alphabet that applies English words to symbolize letters (Durrett, 2009). This was due to the amount of time it took to spell out military terms while in the battlefield. Some of the terms that were changed include hand grenade into potato, tank into turtle, running shoes into gofasters, pens to ink sticks and many more. Navajo Indians had an advantage and nobody would impersonate them because of their heavy accent and the way they spoke (Paul, 1998).
In conclusion, the importance of the Navajo Indians during the War was essential and even later recognized by President Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. They gave the code talkers certificates of recognition and congressional gold medals that inked their names in the history of America. ‘Wind Talkers’ as a film should have, at least, included the personalities and the life issues of the Navajo men, and such recognition by the Presidents. This would have done justice to them instead of an action parked film. Such recognition would enable all the American people who do not know the history of the code talkers to take note and offer them the respect they deserve.
Durrett, D. (2009). Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers. Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press.
Paul, D. A. (1998). The Navajo Code Talkers. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing.
Utter, J. (2001). American Indians: answers to today's questions (2,illustrated ed.). Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.