In Saving Private Ryan does Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) is having early Parkinson's? Parkinson's disease usually starts with main hand hangers and then arm starting to shake - exactly like Millers...

I have looked for this on the net and there are claims that it is PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and not Parkinson's, but I couldn't find anything like shaky hands being caused by PTSD.

EDIT: Parkinson's could explain why he released German solder at radar station instead of shooting him and also agreed to defend the bridge with Ryan... Suspecting that end is near.

Is Captain Miller having early Parkinson's disease?

  • 2
    Seems a fair assumption that it's PTSD (although OTSD (Ongoing TSD) might be a better description). It would be weird to give your main character Parkinson's, never mention it, and then have him die without it seriously affecting him, or him or anyone else realising what it is.
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Sep 30, 2016 at 22:37
  • @Mr_Thyroid Or it could explain why he is releases German solder at radar station instead of shooting him, and agrees to Defend the bridge with Ryan... Suspecting that end is near .... ;) Oct 1, 2016 at 11:48
  • Why does it explain releasing the soldier?
    – iandotkelly
    Sep 1, 2017 at 13:33
  • 1
    He is also meant to be around 34 years old - that's very very young for Parkinsons. Early onset Parkinson's also typically has a slower progression rate and lower rate of some symptoms including dementia. I think its a stretch to diagnose Parkinsons based on a few decisions he makes and the shaking hands.
    – iandotkelly
    Sep 1, 2017 at 13:38
  • 1
    Why would Parkinson's explain choosing to be merciful to a human being? Parkinson's <> Alzheimer's. Rational thought is not impacted. Sep 1, 2017 at 16:18

4 Answers 4


Captain Miller was suffering from PSTD only.

According to the wiki page of Saving Private Ryan :

Just before the Rangers embarked at Portsmouth, England, Miller's right hand began to shake uncontrollably for unknown reasons, though it hints he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He kept this a secret from his men except for Horvath.

  • Although there was the scene where his squad was around him while debriefing the mission map and they all saw his shaky grip on the compass and looked at each other like: “something’s up...” Apr 8, 2020 at 2:59

Definitely PTSD. I found this piece of dialogue in an early draft of the script (although I think it's in the final as well):


           The FINAL RUMBLES of the DISTANT ARTILLERY fade away.  The
           night is dark.  The band of six Americans makes their way
           warily along a French cart path.  Sarge eases up alongside
           Miller and speaks quietly to him.  The others don't overhear.

                     How long's your hand been shaking?

                     A couple of weeks.  It started in
                     Portsmouth when they brought us down
                     for loading.

                     Is it getting worse?

                     No.  It comes and goes.  It stops
                     when I look at it.

                     You may have to find yourself a new
                     line of work, this one doesn't seem
                     to agree with you anymore.

                     I'll be alright.

           Sarge looks at Miller, closely, evaluating him, they walk

Sarge's statement "You may have to find yourself a new line of work, this one doesn't seem to agree with you anymore" indicates that the shaking is a product of being in the war, which would definitely point to PTSD. Since it's the only time his shaking is ever addressed by anyone in the movie, there can be no other answer.

  • Portsmouth is in Britain, so no action has happened yet. google.com/… Jan 25, 2020 at 22:11
  • 1
    @MatasVaitkevicius lots of soldiers involved in the Normandy Invasion had previously fought in the North African and Italian Campaigns. Ample opportunity for combat trauma, and now being sent into battle again. Apr 8, 2020 at 1:23

A very common reaction to the stresses of combat is adrenalin coursing through your veins. It will make you shake after a while. It is common when you experience the Fight or Flight response to life threatening situations. Though Miller gets is afterward, the adrenalin stays in your system for a while. Also, he could be getting very realistic flashbacks.

PTSD used to be called battle fatigue (which is when I studied its symptoms) and can set in pretty quickly, most likely in mild form. In the mild case, you have varying symptoms from developing a lisp, short term memory loss and stuff like that. I would not think it out of the question if shaking is involved.


Lets look at the facts as portrayed in the movie;

  • Cpt Miller had an episode of facial masking when they landed on the beach, typical Parkinson's Disease in many people.
  • Cpt Millers has a resting tremor that stops shaking when he looks at or holds his hand.
  • Cpt Miller appeared to lose the ability to think strategically and questioned his own decisions at the bridge with Horvack.
  • Cpt Miller was a School teacher, School teachers are over represented in many Parkinson's Disease studies
  • Cpt Miller had a altered view of risk taking and pushed the limits, this can be a tell in Parkinson's Disease.
  • Cpt Miller was somewhat a social individual and did not engage or push back when they took his platoon from him, this type of social behavior can Parkinson's Disease.
  • Cpt Miller was happiest away from noise and was softly spoken which can be another sign of PD.
  • General stiffness and soreness can be a symptom of Parkinson's Disease (PD)
  • Cpt Miller didn't display signs of and swallowing issues or thermo regulation issues.
  • 4
    Young onset Parkinson's Disease is defined as the onset of Parkinson symptoms at less than 50 years of age. Captain Miller is in his early 30s. Young onset is extremely rare, making up less than 10% of Parkinson cases. There is a cliche in medical education: "when you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras". All of the symptoms you mention are well within the range of normal non-pathological human reactions, given the situation of being a combat captain in the middle of the fracking largest amphibious assault ever launched. Apr 8, 2020 at 1:45

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