This film is more of an intimate stage play than Flags of Our Fathers, its companion film, although both are psychologically focussed on loyalty, courage, dread and betrayal.
The island serves perfectly as a stage, as all concerned appreciate its ironic and surreal movie set quality. The battle to extract meaning from all this carnage, though invisible, is certainly intense.
Some of the most horrific vignettes, cast as flashbacks, take place in civilian Japan.
The peer pressure on women to sacrifice their love lives and families, because other women have, is exquisitely framed in that scene where the local draft board comes to the front door, serving notice to our foot soldier protagonist -- who never learns to shoot, but admires high command.
The arrogant cruelty (deep immaturity) of an elite special force, and one man's wish to stay human, and consequent expulsion to Iwo Jima as punishment, also makes a lasting impression, and in my library connects to Ralph McGehee's Deadly Deceits, another story of redemption.
The flashback to California is likewise poignant, as we lurk in on a dinner conversation between our Japanese commander and some admiring socialites. The real possibility of war is intimately contemplated, thanks to some party chick who really cuts to the chase.
The symbolism here is the pearl handled Colt pistol, a gift from the Americans to our Japanese general, and a sign that both sides are in some deeper sense the same side (fellow humans), someday destined to become friends.
Of course in retrospect, we all wish we could have skipped to the happy ending, avoiding the nuclear holocaust still to come.