War (Film), What is it Good For?
Catherine Lloyd, Copy Editor, considers the impact of war films, in light of Mendes’ 1917.
War is king when it comes to box office success. Whether a tale of triumphant good over evil or a tale of an underdog pitted against insurmountable odds, war films persist because they paint a nation’s self-image, true to the period of its release. Films that peddle propaganda rear their head above the parapet when a nation cast their eyes back in sentimentality to a time where the world was simply demarcated in terms of good and evil. Mendes’ 1917 is a suicide mission, like it’s first world war counterpart Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, the bravery of the men is at odds with their glory-hungry superiors. At a time of moral quagmire, we search for stories of past resolve and heroism, seeking reassurance in a time of moral certainty. But some are compelled to gloss over and rewrite history to achieve that.
After a current tide of populism, the US right wing has grasped hold of war films such as Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper to platform their ideology
We see the human cost of war amid ensuing chaos. Mendes takes us through the hellish terrain of a corpse-strewn no man’s land, ravaged french towns, eerie abandoned trenches and unflinching battlefield violence. While the immediate world Mendes crafts is all encompassing, we are restrained to a claustrophobic single-shot, continuous cinematic POV and, in consequence, the larger picture of war is neglected. We encounter everything in real-time, immersed within the relentless quest to warn off the Germans strategic withdrawal. Auteurs in recent years, have fashioned the ‘war film’ into a virtual-simulation, whereby the actors travel through orchestrated Indiana Jones set pieces and Mendes is a member of that club. Perilous tripwires and a lone gunshot that winds Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) – which he awakens from after the shot blacks out, as if a game character reloaded – depicts a triviality.
Modern war films can be usurped by political agenda. After a current tide of populism, the US right wing has grasped hold of war films such as Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper to platform their ideology, even if it runs counter to the film itself. The right sees American Sniper as a clear-cut good versus evil, Americans versus Israquis, when its intention is for audiences to comprehend that you can support your country and think critically of it.
Modern war films no longer propagandise but cast a bitter eye towards those responsible
War onscreen can never be divorced from an element of glorification, even if the film’s ethos is anti-war. Movie-goers will always be fascinated by a homeric odyssey of epic proportion, just as Mendes’s 1917 is, that a tale told with the intention of cautioning a repeat of his grandfather’s war, becomes inadvertently self-aggrandising. Mendes’ attempts to use the medium as a cautionary protest is commandeered by a dedication to his grandfather, with 1917 reduced to sentiment. Whilst, there is a noticeable departure from the trend of ‘prettifying’ violence, as war’s ugly realism is not shied away from, 1917 quickly gives way to blossom-strewn meadows and flares that captivatingly light a bombed-out town. It’s hard not to admit the beauty captured among the dead. In those moments, the ruins of war seem salvageable, contrary to war’s unforgiving nature.
It’s in the quiet moments that the burden of war weighs heaviest and that sentiment holds true for 1917. The poignant singing of The Wayfaring Stranger is an image of the boyish youth that armed the trenches in Northern France. You shoulder the fatalism in their weary faces and the pointlessness of their imminent deaths. Modern war films no longer propagandise but cast a bitter eye towards those responsible. War is no longer demonstrated as valid but held up as an example of human tragedy enmass that we must remember. In dramatising war, conflict will always be to a certain extent, sanitised. Yet, 1917 and its unbroken timespan, provide us with an intense awareness of war’s horrors, in which humans are cannon fodder. We see war in its morally debased reality.