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The Saving Private Ryan Scene That Went Too Far

"Saving Private Ryan" is undoubtably one of the most successful Hollywood war films of all time. On its release in 1998 the WWII action film drew almost universal acclaim from fans and critics alike, and 24 years later it routinely makes "Greatest War Movie" lists.

Based loosely on real events according to screenwriter Robert Rodat, the film follows Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) and his eight-man unit as they venture behind enemy lines to locate and extract Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have all been killed in action.

The film has a powerful emotional and visceral impact on audiences, due in large part to Steven Spielberg's chosen directorial and cinematographic approach to the battle scenes. Placing the audience in the middle of the action, Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski create a terrifyingly convincing experience of the chaotic and frenetic brutality of war. To increase the realism and authenticity of the film's opening D-Day battle scene, Spielberg and Kaminski recreated the visual style of 1940s handheld newsreel footage.

The film contains several shocking and harrowing battle scenes

There are many scenes in "Saving Private Ryan" that viewers find stressful to watch, making it in many respects an anti-anti-war movie in the eyes of some. The bloody 25-minute Omaha Beach landing sequence alone is famous for its harrowing and shocking impact, even reportedly re-traumatizing veterans suffering from PTSD, according to War History Online.

Besides the opening sequence, the movie contains plenty of other scenes with the potential to make audiences uncomfortable: The nerve-wracking cat and mouse sniper scene in which Private Caparzo (Vin Diesel) attempts to rescue a civilian family under sniper fire; the team's storming of a deadly machine gun nest; the Battle of Ramelle when the unit comes under attack from an entire SS Panzer division. 

But there's one "Saving Private Ryan" scene that audiences find particularly hard to watch because of its up-close depiction of violence.

The knifing of Private Mellish is the most uncomfortable scene in Saving Private Ryan

When Reddit user u/Gattsu2000 asked "which are some of the most uncomfortable scenes you've ever seen?" it didn't take long for "Saving Private Ryan" to crop up. u/dollerz responded, "In Saving Private Ryan, when the German is shoving the knife into that guy and shushing him as he dies. That made me feel insanely uncomfortable." u/MurrayFranklinRIP concurred: "As the German soldier stabs him to death, he says, 'Give up, you don't stand a chance! Let's end this here! It will be easier for you, much easier. You'll see it will be over quickly.'"

The scene takes place during the climactic Battle of Ramelle. Private Mellish (Adam Goldberg) runs out of ammo and finds himself locked in mortal hand-to-hand combat with a Waffen-SS soldier. Things take a horrific turn when the German soldier wrestles Mellish's bayonet from him, pins him down to the floor, and proceeds to slowly drive the blade into his chest. The painfully drawn-out moment is all the more agonizing as Mellish's brother-in-arms Corporal Upham (Jeremy Davies) stands outside the room frozen in terror listening to his friend's final moments.

Of all the death and tragedy viewers experience when watching "Saving Private Ryan," what makes this scene so harrowing? Perhaps it's the claustrophobic intimacy of one man's death compared to the epic scale of the battle sequences. Perhaps it's the terrible sense of inevitability as Mellish is slowly overpowered and dispatched, combined with the feeling that it could have ended differently if Upham hadn't frozen. Or the irony of the German soldier comforting his victim with gentle hushing and soft words. Most likely it's a combination of all these factors that makes this scene so masterfully horrific and impactful on those who watch it.