SUBJECTS — U.S./1941 – 1945;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Coming of Age; Peace/Peacemakers; Courage in War;


AGE: 13+; MPAA Rating — R for language, war violence and a scene of sensuality;

Drama; 1992; 107 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

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This is the story of a WWII American intelligence unit posted to a remote location in the Ardennes Forest at the time of the Battle of the Bulge. At Christmas, the American soldiers receive a message from a German Army unit that it wants to surrender. But there’s a hitch. The Germans want it to appear that they were overwhelmed to avoid reprisals to their families back in Germany. The movie shows the soldiers trying to work this out. The film is based on the novel by William Wharton.


Selected Awards: None.

Featured Actors: Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Arye Gross, Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, Frank Whaley, John C. McGinley, Larry Joshua, Curt Lowens.

Director: Keith Gordon.


The movie shows the fear felt by soldiers and the difficulties in establishing trust between enemies. It shows that German soldiers had feelings too. This movie is deeply upsetting in the way that any good war movie should be. It brings several elements of the horror of war into clear perspective.


MODERATE. There are one or two scenes of graphic violence. The worst scene shows blood pouring out of a fatal wound in one of the boys we have learned to love. The violence in this movie is relevant to its message.

There is no graphic sexual activity shown but several of the boys, before they ship out to Europe, pool their money and go looking for a prostitute. They don’t want to die as virgins. Instead of finding a prostitute, they meet a young war widow. She decides, out of love for her dead husband, to serve as a sexual initiator for each of the young soldiers. This episode is tastefully done. The scene is poignant.

There is some mild profanity in the movie.


Describe for your child the Battle of the Bulge and its place in the history of WWII. See the Helpful Background section. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.


The Battle of the Bulge was the last major German offensive on the Western Front. Under Hitler’s direct orders the German Army transferred men and materiel from the Eastern Front, permitting the Russians to gain ground at the rate of 100 miles per day. The plan was to break through the Allied lines and push to the sea at Antwerp and Lieges. The attack began on December 16, 1944. The Germans broke through in the Ardennes Forest making a huge bulge in the Allied lines. The allies were not able to turn the Germans back until January 16, 1945. The Battle of the Bulge cost 77,000 Allied casualties and 220,000 German casualties.



The American soldiers were afraid much of the time. Were they cowards?

Suggested Response:

Fear is a feeling, not an action. The word “cowardice” describes actions, not feelings. Many heroes feel fear but they act like heroes. In the situation in which these soldiers found themselves feeling afraid was a realistic appraisal of their situation. Their actions were something very different.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

2. Why did the Germans insist upon staging a battle scene at their bivouac?

3. Why was the Jewish member of the American unit able to communicate with the Germans?

4. Why was it ironic that the German unit had to negotiate the terms of its surrender with the only Jewish member of the American unit?

Suggested Response:

See Learning Guide to “Cyrano de Bergerac” for a discussion of irony.

5. What went wrong in the efforts to arrange this surrender? What were the mistakes and by whom were they made?

6. What were the signals sent by the German unit that it wanted to be friends?

7. Did the attitude of the American soldiers toward their officers cause them to become insubordinate? How do you reconcile the independence of mind of Americans with the obedience required of soldiers in the military?

8. What is the “law of unintended consequences” and how did it operate in this film?



1. Why was the American unit afraid of the German unit?


2. Did the young soldiers do the right thing by putting themselves at risk to cooperate with the Germans to arrange the surrender of the German unit?


3. The American soldiers were boys at the beginning of the film and they were men by the end. What event in the film matured them? Was it (a) going into the army; (b) their sexual experience with the young widow; (c) experiencing combat; or (d) the failed attempt to arrange the surrender of the German unit?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

1. Does the fact that the German unit was wiped out but the Americans lost only two men make the losses in this film less painful? Should it?
[See Questions in the Peacemakers section above.]


See The European Theater of Operations — THE ARDENNES: BATTLE OF THE BULGE by Hugh M. Cole published by the Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army.

Last updated December 16, 2009.

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