Yesterday we went to see the movie 1917 at the 11:00 in the morning showing. There were about 9 people in the theatre, including the three of us: Erik, Jopie and me. The film just opened last Friday, so going at 11 am is always a good idea.
The movie was marvelous. Sam Mendes, along with his cinematographer Roger Deakins, absolutely captured the feel of the trenches and the French countryside from that era. Having seen a significant number of documentaries, along with Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, I kinda think I know what it looks like. But the story itself was the real gem of the movie.
The dialogue was spare, without the usual histrionics that accompany the average ‘war’ movie. This really wasn’t a war movie, per se. It was a story about two young men who are assigned a task that had familial implications, and they set about the business of completing that task to the best of their ability. The one emotion that let them down was empathy for a burning man. One of them won’t be making that mistake again.
But what emerged most prominently from the film was the same one that emerged from Peter Jackson’s work: love and respect for an elder who participated in this colossal folly. Nobody wanted to be there, but once there, they didn’t want to go home again. Isn’t that always the way with young men and war? In this case, the physical demands of life in the trenches was the biggest challenge.
But these two young men left those trenches shortly after the film began and wandered across ‘no-man’s land’ to deliver a message to a forward unit that needed to be briefed on the latest aerial recon. It was set in April 1917, which was a good year before the German’s big push, when they could move their eastern troops to the west after Russia capitulated amidst revolution. So the war was still going on hot and heavy, with enormous casualties on both sides. One of the characters said that this thing was going to end with the last man standing. We know that wasn’t so; it ended in the November, 1918 Armistice when Germany recognized they could not win after America joined on the side of the Allies.
The scene they show in the trailer is quite well done, and likely the stuff of bad dreams, when a plane crashes right next to where the two guys are standing. It wasn’t as exciting as the plane crash in The English Patient, but all they had to pay for – other than the crashed plane – was a lot of sand. This film had a much more extensive set, so it’s understandable that they had to manage the budget and not have that great a crash.
Go see the film – it’s quite good.