I watched USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage last night. The film tells the true story of the worst naval disaster in US history. It was a perfect film to watch so close to Remembrance day. I am not American, and I hadn’t heard of this warship before or what happened to it. I found myself googling the story and wanting to learn more about the survivors and the rescuers.
Spoiler Alert: I do talk about the story below but it is all historical fact.
The Story Goes…
The film follows the warship in July 1945, on its secret mission to deliver components to Tinian Island. Mission completed, the parts arrived at their destination. They became the ‘little boy’ atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima a few days later. The ship and its crew continued towards Leyte in the Philippines but their journey was never completed. On July 30th at 00:14 they were detected by a Japanese submarine and hit with two torpedoes. There was an explosion, the electricity was knocked out and in just twelve minutes Indianapolis flipped over, the stern rose and she plunged down towards the depths. More than 300 people lost their lives in those twelve minutes. Of the nearly 900 that survived the sinking, their ordeal was far from over. They spent the next five days adrift at dying from and at risk of shark attacks, dehydration, severe sunburn and starvation.
It was only by luck that they were spotted by a routine patrol flight four days later. A sea plane was dispatched to supply rafts and report on the situation. He landed against orders and began picking up lone survivors and those at risk from shark attacks. Upon learning they were the crew of the Indianapolis he radioed for immediate assistance. The USS Cecil Doyle arrived and used its largest search light as a beacon to call other rescue ships to the scene. Only 317 men ultimately survived.
Being an film editor, I am able to take in the subtleties of a scene and I pay much attention to framing and composition of shots. I noticed straight away that when we were on the ship, the shots were mid to tight, reflecting the small, tight spaces inside the warship. This made me feel like I was right there with them, even feeling trapped as I couldn’t see any way out either. As the film continued and we started seeing outside the ship with the survivors the shots were much wider and held a different sort of fear. I felt like I was right there. Feeling the fear and horrors that those poor men faced.
Thats when I thought, this is a great film because of how it was actually making me feel and because I wanted to find out more information about it. It really made me think of the horrors of war, and of all the lives lost on both sides. I have been reading about the warship on google and learning about Captain McVay, Commander Hashimoto (Commander of the Japanese Submarine) and Hunter Scott who’s obsession with the Indianapolis sinking helped lead to the exoneration of Captain McVay in 2000. It really is an interesting story.
Anyway, I think the film is worth a watch. Its action packed and really does make you feel lucky to be alive.
EDIT: Update on 22.08.2017 – The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis has been found in the Pacific Ocean. It remains the property of the US Navy and has become a protected war memorial.