While most people were watching the Patriots defeat the Seahawks at the Super Bowl last Sunday, I was watching Patriot Games and discovering something profound about it. What I learned is far more intriguing to me than any football game.
Patriot Games follows an ancient symmetrical form of storytelling known as chiasmus. Its first half mirrors its second half so that it begins and ends the same way and every other point along the way to the middle of the film matches up perfectly.
Sit back and learn a whole new way to appreciate Patriot Games.
I’ll show you what I mean when I say that the film’s two halves mirror each other by first revealing the film’s chiasmus:
A. Jack Ryan calls his house in Maryland and then makes love to his wife
B. Jack kills Sean Miller’s brother during an attack on Lord Holmes and his family
C. Irish Republican Army soldiers invade a renegade commander’s house and are all killed
D. Jack testifies at Sean’s trial, helping to convict him
E. The Ryans return to their home in Maryland
F. The renegade IRA group ambushes an armored truck to rescue Sean
G. Admiral Greer attempts to recruit Jack back into the CIA, but he gets rejected
H. Sean obsesses over finding Jack and exacting revenge
I. Lord Holmes says, “I will not have my itinerary dictated to me by terrorists”
J. Jack lectures Navy cadets on Athens’s pride leading to its downfall
K. Sean and his compatriots attempt to kill Jack and his wife and daughter
L. Cathy and Sally Ryan are badly injured and have to be flown to a hospital
M. Jack returns to his old job at the CIA
N. British authorities raid an IRA safe house
N. That raid helps Jack start putting the pieces together on how to find Sean
M. Sean returns to the renegade IRA group in their new camp in North Africa
L. Jack drives a traumatized Cathy home from the hospital
K. Sean calls Jack and threatens his family again
J. Jack threatens the IRA spokesman who is too prideful to betray his fellow Irishmen
I. The renegade IRA group’s training schedule is determined by U.S. satellites
H. Jack obsesses over finding Sean to protect his family
G. A bookseller attempts to enlist in Sean’s mission, but he is rejected and killed
F. U.S. Special Forces ambush the terrorists’ camp to try to kill Sean
E. The Ryans bring their daughter home
D. Jack identifies a traitor and forces a confession from him
C. Renegade IRA soldiers invade the Ryans’ home and are all killed
B. Jack kills Sean during an attack on Lord Holmes
A. Cathy gets a call from the doctor about the sex of her unborn child
Now I’ll explain each of these points in greater detail to really get into how this all works.
A. Phone Call
Patriot Games begins and ends with a phone call. Jack Ryan calls his housekeeper in Maryland to ask her to get new goldfish for his daughter to replace the ones that died while he and his family were in Britain. Then he and his wife, Cathy, make love.
As a result of that lovemaking, Cathy gets pregnant and at the end she gets a phone call from the doctor letting her know that her unborn baby is healthy. He also reveals its gender, but the film fades to black before she can tell us what it is.
Jack tries to keep his daughter in the dark about the fate of her goldfish while the audience is left in the dark about their baby’s sex. Until the sequel, of course.
B. Assault on the Royals
Jack stops an assault on Lord Holmes and his family. In the process, he shoots one of the attackers who turns out to be the younger brother of one of the other attackers, Sean Miller. Sean is abandoned by the rest of the attackers and arrested. During his interrogation, one of the authorities tries to provoke Sean into giving names by saying if it had been himself who was left for dead by his friends, he would kill them.
At the film’s climax, Jack again stops an assault on Lord Holmes and Jack’s family by the same group. By this point, Sean is so angry he no longer values the lives of his fellow attackers and kills several of them while trying to get to Jack. Jack impales Sean through the chest, killing him.
In both cases, Jack prevents a disaster for the Royal Family and kills a member of the Miller family with a weapon through the chest.
C. Home Invasion
Several IRA members storm into renegade IRA commander Kevin O’Donnell’s house in an attempt to ambush him. But he is ready for them, and he kills them all before making his escape.
Near the end of the film, Kevin, Sean, and other renegade IRA members invade Jack’s house in Maryland. Jack manages to escape with his family and friends and kill several of the invaders along the way.
This is pretty clear. The house is invaded, but the home team wins both times.
D. Terrorist’s Trial
Jack testifies at Sean’s trial, which helps to convict him. Sean reacts angrily, yelling at Jack for killing his brother.
Later, Jack discovers an IRA traitor embedded in Lord Holmes’s staff and angrily throws him down into the basement where the traitor had just come up from hiding a bodyguard he had murdered.
There’s no time for a trial the second time around, but Jack is sure of his guilt, nonetheless. Also, while Sean refuses to yield any information to his captors, the traitor starts to talk under the first bit of pressure.
E. Coming Home to a Surprise
Shortly after the Ryans return home to Maryland, Cathy discovers that she is pregnant.
Later, Jack and Cathy bring their daughter Sally home from the hospital just in time for Jack to receive a medal of honor from Lord Holmes.
Both of these happy things resulted from Jack’s actions in London.
F. The IRA Ambush
With information provided by a traitor, Sean’s friends ambush the armored truck carrying Sean to prison in the middle of the night. They kill all of the guards, showing no mercy, even for a fellow Irishman.
With intelligence gathered by Jack, Admiral Greer orders a midnight strike on the IRA camp in North Africa where they suspect Sean is hiding out. The marines kill everyone in the camp while Jack looks on stoically.
Both men are being protected by other people fighting their battles for them. Sean actually gets his hands dirty, though, while Jack just has to endure satellite images of men clinging to life and dying.
G. Failed Recruitment
After Sean escapes British justice, Admiral Greer visits Jack and asks him to come back to the CIA. Jack refuses and then talks to his wife who basically threatens to leave him if he ever goes back.
After a bookseller evades British police, he goes to Sean’s camp and attempts to join his mission to kill the Royal Family. But Sean rejects his plea and kills him on the spot.
Jack refuses while the bookseller is refused. Cathy says she can’t live the way they used to; Sean doesn’t give the bookseller a choice and simply ends his life.
H. Obsessed with Revenge
Sean isn’t content with being free from his prison. He is obsessed with finding Jack and killing him because of what he did to his brother
Jack struggles to find enough evidence to prove where Sean is hiding. He is obsessed with finding Sean and stopping him because of what he did to his wife and daughter.
Sean can’t think of anything other than Jack and he is motivated purely by hatred. Jack can’t think of anything besides Sean, but he is inspired primarily by love for his family. Sean is eventually consumed by his anger while Jack is vindicated by his gut feelings.
I. Who Dictates Their Itinerary
After Lord Holmes is told that it’s dangerous for him to engage in too many public activities, he says, “I will not have my itinerary dictated to me by terrorists.”
Sean and the other ex-IRA members are forced to schedule their weapons training sessions according to the movement of the satellites that fly overhead and photograph their camp.
Lord Holmes refuses to bow to his enemies’ pressure to change his schedule while the terrorists have to hide during certain hours while trying to lay low.
J. Pride Is Their Downfall
During a lecture at the Naval Academy, Jack helps cadets realize that Athenians’ pride led to their downfall. Then Samuel L. Jackson (I don’t know his character’s name, and it doesn’t really matter) comes in and gives Jack a tongue-in-cheek medal for his reckless courage in the line of fire.
Jack goes to an Irish pub to talk to the IRA spokesman and demand information about Sean. But the spokesman is too prideful to even consider betraying a fellow Irishman. Jack promises serious retribution if he doesn’t change his mind, and Jackson suddenly appears to back Jack up.
In one case, Jack is dispensing information while in the other he is demanding it. He discusses pride being the downfall of a great civilization and he promises the downfall of the IRA in the present if the spokesman is too prideful. And Jackson interrupts both scenes at the end with his awesome presence.
K. Sean’s Threats
Sean sends two fellow terrorists to kill Jack while he himself brazenly attempts to kill Jack’s wife and daughter. Both attacks fail, but they leave the family bloodied.
Sean calls Jack at home late one night and taunts him about how easy it was to get to his family. Jack tells his wife Sean won’t be able to get that close to them again, but she still wants him dead.
In both cases, Sean is unable to inflict the deadly harm he wants on Jack and his loved ones. So he’s forced to settle for near-misses and petty threats.
L. Physical and Emotional Harm
Cathy and Sally Ryan are flown in a helicopter to the hospital to be treated for their serious injuries after an attempt on their lives leads to a serious car crash.
After Cathy has recovered physically, Jack brings her back home, but she is clearly still suffering from the emotional scars of her ordeal and the threat to her family.
Jack is seriously shaken up as he helplessly watches his wife and daughter being treated in the hospital. Cathy is so shaken up that she has a complete change of heart about Jack returning to the CIA.
M. Back to Work
Inspired by the attack on his family, Jack returns to his old job at the CIA.
Sean returns to his extremist IRA friends at a North Africa training camp. He is frustrated to learn that Jack’s wife and daughter survived after being taken to the hospital.
The hero and villain get back to work doing what they do best. But Jack has a healthy outlet for his emotions while Sean continues to bottle his emotions up until they explode at everyone around him.
N. Putting the Pieces Together
The turning point of the film comes with a raid by British police on an apartment full of IRA members.
That event clues Jack into the fact that Sean is part of a breakoff group of the IRA that has been sabotaging other more mainstream Irish rebels from the start. All of this helps Jack figure out who they should be looking for in order to find Sean.
The attacks on the Royal Family, Ryan’s family, and other IRA members suddenly come into focus in this pivotal moment. From this point on, Jack is on the right path to finding Sean and putting an end to everything that was put into motion by Sean and his fellow extremists in the first half of the film.
What It All Means
Patriot Games is about a power struggle between two men: Jack Ryan and Sean Miller. One is good and the other is evil. They’re painted in stark colors that leave nothing ambiguous about them. The symmetrical nature of this film hammers home that point.
Evil has its way through most of the first half of the film while good begins to triumph in the second half.
The Hunt for Red October is still my favorite movie based on one of Tom Clancy’s novels, but now I see that Patriot Games is a much richer film than I thought.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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