This film tells the story of 2 fictionalBritish lance corporals in World War I on the western front, assigned to stop a battalion of 1,600 men from walking into a German ambush. One of the men has extra incentive. His brother is part of the forces about to walk into that trap. The general warns the young corporal, “If you fail, it will be a massacre.” Apparently the film is based on true events told by the director’s father.
The film astonishes with its brilliant cinematography and unusual points of view. This is a war movie like I have never seen before. I am not sure this is what I wanted, but I really got the feeling that this is what war is like. And it doesn’t feel good. It an outstanding film. While not for the squeamish, I recommend it highly.
The scenes of war are unparalleled in their grizzly realism. The landscape is strewn with mud, dead horses, dead humans stuck inside mud, often with only parts revealed. Rats and birds consume the corpses. There are cows in the country-side doing their best to ignore the carnage. Buildings are horribly ravished. Violence is sudden, shocking, and explosive. All of this makes for a great film created by artists at the height of their powers. If this film does not win the Best Picture award, the film that does will have to be outstanding.
When the message to stand down is delivered, the officers who receive it safely ensconced in their bunkers, don’t want to believe. They are ready for war. The last thing they want to do is stand down. That idea is entirely contrary to their aggressive training. You’ll have to see the film to see what happens.
But I want to comment on a side bar. The film does not glorify the “heroes.” It does not glorify war. And that is good.
But why do so many war movies focus on the soldiers? For example, I would love to see a war movie that concentrates on a real life hero–like Bertrand Russell for example. I read his autobiography about 50 years ago after my first year of university. Russell was one of my intellectual heroes, but he was more than that.
I will never forget his description of going to Trafalgar Square in London when England declared war on the Germans in 1914. What surprised Russell, and me, was the immense joy experienced by the people. They were excited to go to war. The young men and women, aided and abetted by the old warmongers, were absolutely joyous at the prospects of the war. Of course it helped that most of them thought the war would be over soon. They fully expected to be, as they said, “home or homo by Christmas.”
Bertrand Russell could not believe it. It was his first experience of people braying for war. They screamed for war. They demanded war. And only a few voices dissented from this madness. People like Russell who were conscientious objectors to the war urged caution. They were the only ones who were sceptical about the objects of the war. They were the only ones who thought the war might not end soon. They were the only ones who exercised any humility or modesty. They were not consumed by the lust for war.
Of course, the people in England scorned Russell and his kind as cowards, traitors, Communists, and Huns. Many of them, like Russell were imprisoned for refusing to serve in the war. That took real courage.
Yet that war served absolutely no good purpose. It was fought mainly by young men and women from the working classes, to defend the dubious colonial businesses of the ruling classes. Why would they do that? Those hapless young people were pushed into a meat grinder for the sake of the higher classes. Millions lost their lives for no good reason at all. The war, like so many, was a monstrous disaster. Old men called; young men and women died fro it.
When will we see a movie that glorifies the dissidents who told the truth about war, urging caution and humility while renouncing aggressive violence? That is a movie that I would like to see.