In the new Tom Hanks film “Greyhound,” protagonist Ernie Krause is a man guided by his Christian faith amid the horrors of war — something director Aaron Schneider acknowledges makes the World War II drama all the more compelling.
“As soon as you bring a man of faith into a story as a hero, you're almost immediately confronting everything that a man of faith holds dear,” Schneider told The Christian Post in an exclusive interview. “When thrust into war, a man of faith is going to inevitably confront the basic tenets of his own faith: The sanctity of life and thou shalt not kill; faith in his mission and himself; and holding to unbroken faith for yet another day. That's what storytelling is about; you take a hero's principles and everything he or she holds dear, and you throw the biggest possible thematic opposites at them.”
Adapted from the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, “Greyhound” follows Krause, captain of a U.S. warship leading a convoy of 37 merchant and troop ships across the North Atlantic in February 1942. During the five-day voyage, the convoy must pass through a treacherous area of the ocean riddled with Nazi U-boats. Without air support, Krause is forced to navigate life-and-death situations and close encounters as he works to lead his crew to safety.
With a screenplay written by Hanks himself, “Greyhound” establishes Krause as a man of faith almost instantly. He’s shown praying both on his knees and silently before every meal. Scripture is also littered throughout the movie: Hebrews 13:8 is referenced on several occasions, and as the Greyhound pursues a German U-Boat, Krause whispers under his breath Proverbs 3:6: “Acknowledge him, and he will direct thy path.”
“In the book, the portrait of this character is painted and established as a man of deep, unrelenting faith,” Schneider reiterated. “Tom really wanted to remain faithful to the book, which is why it was so important to bring that out.”
Though a seasoned military official, Krause struggles to reconcile his faith with the inevitable loss of life during combat. At the climax of the first act, he conveys relief mixed with obvious grief after his crew effectively destroys a U-boat.
“That scene designed to show the two sides of the coin: When you have been successful in defeating the enemy, on the one hand, it's necessary to keep from evil from spreading through the world. On the other hand, all human life is valuable, and taking a human life is not to be taken lightly,” the director explained. “There’s the celebration of the fact that you’ve protected your convoy, but on the other side of the coin, there are 50 dead bodies floating to the bottom of the sea.”
“Every soldier has to address that irony for themselves. But that scene is designed to contrast the celebration and the relief in the ship with a man of faith confronting the act that he's just taken 50 lives.”
The film, which dropped Friday on Apple TV+, also includes few depictions of violence and little coarse language. Schneider told CP that the lone F-bomb included in the film’s dialogue “is there for a reason.”
“The sailor who let the word slip out quickly censors himself and apologizes to the captain,” he explained. “We put it there to illustrate that this captain does not permit foul words on his ship. The character himself helped us make this film a little more family-friendly than the average war movie.”
With a background in cinematography, Schneider said he was “excited” to tackle the “visual battle” that accompanied creating a film that takes place almost exclusively at sea. Nearly all of the battle scenes and the roiling waves of the Atlantic Ocean were created using visual effects.
“The movie is a visual deep dive into the fascinating way that the Navy works,” he said. “There haven’t been a lot of modern films that really shine the light on what went in to winning and surviving the Battle of Atlantic. It’s for those people who want to be visually entertained, yes, but also for those who want to be enlightened. We feel like we've explored a really fascinating aspect of the way men fought for their country.”
While the film follows a story that took place many decades ago, Schneider pointed out that the events of WWII in many ways parallel 21st-century challenges — particularly, he said, the coronavirus pandemic.
“Movies tend to take on different personalities at different times, and ‘Greyhound’ found itself exploring some ideas that do resonate with what we're all going through right now,” he said. “We think of WWII as a very defined period in time: The beginning, middle, and end. But when it was going on it was so enormous and so uncertain that nobody knew what their future was going to be, let alone who was going to win. There was this sense of hunkering down, protecting each other, and just looking to tomorrow.”
The image of a ship floating on a treacherous open sea with no land in sight, he added, is a visual metaphor for the uncertainty and fear many people are currently facing.
“We're going through something that feels a little bit like that right now,” Schneider said. “We're kind of all cooped up in the middle of nowhere, and we're looking out to the horizon. Nobody knows when land is coming and in terms of the overall situation, we don't know where that's headed either.”
“Greyhound,” Schneider stressed, is a tale of hope, faith, and resiliency, and a reminder to care for one another and respect human life in the face of adversity. It’s a story, he said, that America needs.
“All we can do is take on each day and keep moving forward and protect each other and get through it,” he said. “That was one of the defining things about America in World War II. It brought the whole country together in with a sense of purpose, and Americans drew hope and strength from each other.”
“I think that's something that we're living through now, turning to each other for a little support so that we feel like we're unified. It’s a little tougher to do these days maybe than it was back then but still just as important. Patriotism isn’t just putting your hand over your heart. It’s being proactive about protecting yourself and your fellow Americans from harm while preserving what is good and right, whether that be life or freedom. That’s what ‘Greyhound’ is all about.”
"Greyhound" is rated PG-13 and is currently streaming on AppleTV+.