Movie Analysis of Pearl Harbor Using Principles of Interpersonal Communication


The movie is about World War II and it is also about a love story. In fact, it is a love triangle between two men and a woman. The name of the first one is Rafe and the younger of the two is called Danny. They grew up together in the same rural area and because Rafe’s father is a crop duster they had the chance to learn about airplanes. Thus, when they were older they became licensed pilots. Their love interest is a woman named Evelyn and they met her in the army because they became Army Air Corps pilots. Evelyn is Rafe’s girlfriend but not for long.

Their individual and intertwined stories became complicated when Rafe volunteered to fight alongside British pilots over in England. At the same time Danny and Evelyn were sent to work at Pearl Harbor a U.S. Naval facility located in Hawaii. While they were there they received news that Rafe was killed in action.

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As Danny and Evelyn mourned his death they fell in love with each other. After some time Rafe returned home to the surprise of Danny and Evelyn. The conflict between all three intensified in the exact moment that the Japanese fleet was on its way to destroy Pearl Harbor and everything it contains.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the high casualty rate forced former best friends Rafe and Danny to put their differences aside so they can avenge what the Japanese Imperial Army did to America. The eventually volunteered to become part in a suicide raid deep into Japan. Their mission under Col. Jimmy Doolittle, was to bomb Japan by using modified bombers forced to fly out of a aircraft carrier.

Their daring mission proved to everyone that Japan is vulnerable but Danny sacrificed his life to make that raid a success. The United States eventually vanquished its enemies.

The Context of Interpersonal Communication

The main characters interact with each other because Rafe and Danny grew up as if they were brothers. They were neighbors but they became so close to each other – Rafe acted as if he is the older brother of Danny. Their relationship was intensified because Danny had an abusive father who treated harshly.

Rafe always had to come to his aid. When it comes to Rafe and Evelyn the strong interaction requires no further explanation. The pilot fell in love with the nurse. Their relationship blossomed because they were far away from their true families and they were in the midst of a brewing war.

But when Rafe was presumed killed in action, Danny was placed in a difficult position with regards to Evelyn. He realized that from the very beginning, when they were still children, Rafe has always been there for him and it is time to repay the favor. He has to take care of Evelyn. In the process he fell head over heels over her and that is one big problem when Rafe comes home to find his best friend acting like a traitor to him. The conflict begins in the lives of these three people as the conflict of war intensifies around them.

Types of Listening

There are various types of listening such as for enjoyment, to get information, to help others in need and to evaluate something that was said (Kanu, 2009, p.59). When Evelyn listened to the plea of Rafe not to flunk him in the medical exam she was listening to evaluate the truthfulness of what was said and she was listening to help him.

When Danny as a little boy, he listened to the instructions given by the older Rafe, he was listening for information. When the nurses listened to the small talk of the soldiers, they were listening for enjoyment. It is good to listen and not just talk (Collins & O’Rourke, 2009).

Types of Nonlistening

In the early phase of the movie one can see Rafe and Danny trying to play the game of chicken. But they did not use cars; they used their planes to play this game of bravado. The head of the air base Col. Doolittle was very angry at them especially at Rafe because he knew that he was the one who started it all.

As Doolittle was giving a short lecture it appears at first that Rafe was listening but he was not. It is one what will call as pseudo-listening and he only did it to show respect. He was not really listening because he knew what Doolittle was really thinking that he was just like him when he was a young man.

Positive Listening Skills

There are instances of the display of positive listening skills. This can be seen when a young Rafe was teaching Danny how to fly an airplane. They were in a make-shift plane with wooden implements for rudders and controls but Danny was all ears. He was eager to learn from Rafe and so he was listening intently and hanging on every word that was spoken.

Another example of positive listening skills can be seen when Doolittle would speak up and every soldier in attendance will dare not move because they fear that they will miss what their leader was saying to them.


There are different kinds of emotions but the most common are happiness, sadness, depression and joy (Kanu, 2009, p.56). In the movie happiness can be seen in the faces of the children when they were happy with their toys and when they are with their playmates. Happiness was also seen when the nurses get together and talk about boys.

Sadness is seen in the face of Evelyn when she realized that Rafe will have to leave her because he had to volunteer and travel overseas. Sadness was seen in the face of Danny when he was left behind while his best friend had the chance to fight the Germans in Europe.

Depression was palpable immediately after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. There seems to be no hope that they can recover from that devastation. However, this emotion was temporary because the United States had a great leader in the person of Franklin D. Roosevelt who rallied the troops and every American citizen to pitch in and help in the fight against imperialism.

Joy was felt when total victory was accomplished by the Allies against the Axis Powers. There were different emotions in the movie but there are times when the emotions are not as clear cut as the examples given just recently. Sometimes the emotions are mixed, just as in the case of Evelyn when he saw Rafe getting out of the plane safe and sound while at the same time she saw the coffin bearing the remains of Danny.

These emotions are easy to see even if the characters did not say anything to convey what they felt. The listener or the observer will only need to look at the non-verbal cues.

There are many signs such as tears that were shed and this signifies sadness. When it comes to depression no verbal skills are needed because silence speaks and communicates the heavy depression felt in their hearts. This is seen right after the surprise attack by the Japanese Imperial Army.

The bloody aftermath left many at a loss for words. Anger is seen in the wild eyes of the men especially when they are engaged in battle. Joy on the other hand is seen in the outstretched arms of the celebrators as they expressed the happiness brought by victory.

Factors Influencing Emotions

Their emotions and the way they expressed it was greatly affected by the circumstances surrounding them. This is very much evident in the middle portion of the movie when the United States declared war against the Nazis and the Japanese Imperial Army. More importantly the soldiers and their leaders were greatly affected by the events that transpired in Pearl Harbor. The destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii became a rallying cry for many and it was their source of inspiration every time they are in the thick of battle.

The events in the Pacific and in Europe inspired them no end. This is very much evident every time Franklin Roosevelt would call on a meeting with his cabinet and his generals and he would be so emotional as he try to inspire them to fight their enemies. With regards to Rafe, Danny and Evelyn they were also affected by what they had to go through as friends and as lovers.

Conflict’s Cues

One of the most common signs of conflict is violence (West & Turner, 2009, p.306). There are plenty of instances of violence in the movie and therefore it is easy to see the relationship with the non-verbal cues that signifies that there is conflict brewing between two persons or two groups (Kalbfleisch, 1993).

Before the raid of the Japanese bombardiers who caught the Americans with their pants down in December of 1941, there was conflict within Japan. This can be seen in the agitated voices of the leaders every time they would talk about the significance of American and their need to defeat them in the Pacific.

Conflict Resolution

The type of conflict that was shown in the movie is not just an ordinary dispute between neighbors. The type of conflict shown happens in a massive scale such as the plan raid on Japanese soil. In this regard war could never be stopped without fighting. It can be argued that national leaders cannot see any other way to permanently end the global conflict. Aside from the war there is also plenty of interpersonal conflict between Rafe, Danny, Evelyn and the people that they love.

Conflict brings with it negative emotions and a lot of animated conversations and facial expressions connoting fear and anger. If there is conflict then there is also negative listening. There are only a few scenes wherein a successful conflict resolution strategy was used.

Most of the time, the conflict between two people pilots and soldiers were ended by applying extreme force killing each other in the process. But there are instances when conflicts were resolved by simply talking and applying the principle of positive listening. The first example is when Rafe and Danny’s father fought each other and Rafe made terrible accusations against him. But when Danny’s father explained what he went through Rafe understood why he is a difficult person to live with.

The second instance of a successful conflict resolution is when Rafe pleaded with Evelyn for her to look into his eye exam results with favor because he has no problem with his vision but he had problem reading the letters in the chart. He made it a win-win situation for him and for her. She would be instrumental in sending one of the best pilots into the war. When she realized that she has the power to take his wings away she gave her consent and gave him the stamp of approval.

I would do the same thing to resolve this conflict with regards to the initial conflict between Evelyn and Rafe. I would make her understand that the Army Air Corps are in desperate need for fighter pilots and I would be the perfect candidate. But the only problem is a problem with reading letters of the eye chart and not necessarily my vision. I would make Evelyn feel that this is a win-win situation for both of us. Conflict must be resolved to the benefit of both parties (Hargie, Saunders & Dickson, 2000).

Attachment Style

The attachment style that was very much evident in the movie is what was known as anxious-ambivalent (Knapp & Daly, 2002, p.154). This can be seen in the behavior of Danny. He is not secure when it comes to his self-image and this is the reason why he stayed away from forming relationships and in the movie he always stay in the background.

The person who demonstrates a secure attachment style is Rafe. He always comes forward and he always tries to lead his friends and his team. This is why he pursued Evelyn. This is the same reason why he wanted not only to become the best pilot but also to inspire the other pilots who are in the same squadron with him.

Rafe’s secure attachment style allows him to achieve a level of self-disclosure to his friends and most especially to Evelyn. He demonstrated the importance of self-disclosure (Neff, 2006). He was not afraid to tell Evelyn his dreams and desires for his future. He told her that his intention was to volunteer to the Royal Air Force and this intimate detail of his life he shared to Evelyn without any discomfort.


Watching Pearl Harbor is such a fun activity. I would definitely recommend this movie to my friends and especially to those who are studying interpersonal communication. There are so many scenes and the scope and breadth of the story allows for rich and complex interactions between colorful characters. This will enable any student of communication to find various case studies with regards to the principles of effective communication be it verbal or non-verbal skills.


Collins, S. & J. O’Rourke. (2009) Interpersonal Communication: Listening and Responding. OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Hargie, O., C. Suanders, & D. Dickson. (2000) Social Skills in Interpersonal Communication. New York: Routledge.

Kalbfleisch, P. (1993). Interpersonal Communication: Evolving Interpersonal Relationships. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Kanu, A. (2009). Reflections in Communication: An Interdisciplinary Approach. MD: University Press of America, Inc.

Knapp, M. & J. Daly. (2002). Handbook of Interpersonal Communication. CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Neff, B. (2006) A Pastor’s Guide to Interpersonal Communication. New York: Haworth Press, Inc.

West, R. & L. Turner. (2009). Understanding Interpersonal Communication: Making Choices in Changing Times. MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


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