1917 or the story of Sam and Frodo retold

For anyone who’s a fan of Lord of the Rings, it is known that the story was mostly inspired by Tolkien’s days in the war. Lord of the Rings tells a tale that the strong friendships become stronger in the face of adversity and can last a life time. That delivering important items can sometimes make the difference between life and death. And that doing your duty is honour above all.

And when I finally went to see the movie who snatched Best Picture at the Golden Globes, I was absolutely in awe. The movie is wonderfully shot, with panning views that show both the beauty of the French countryside as well as the death and destruction that comes from the ongoing war. And I could not help myself from thinking that Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield were like Sam and Frodo, sent into the wilderness and dangers of Mordor to deliver another Ring.

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They’re walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow mornings attack, if you fail, it will be a massacre.

The two Lance Corporals, best of friends, are asked to go on a mission to deliver a message to the general – that they are walking into a trap that will kill thousands. The two of them set of on a journey that crosses dead-mans-land, avoid deep puddles, barbed wire, rotting corpses. When they reach the German trenches and find them empty, they decide to explore and see if by any chance they can find some food and an exit. A rat triggers a trap that was left behind and an entire mine system starts collapsing over them.

The moment that Blake pulled out Schofield all white from the dust of the explosion acted like a premonitory vision of how Blake’s face would look like later on that day.

I had to stop and admire the dialogue. It was lighthearted. Talking about picking cherries, about pies, about blooms and trees when all around them was just destruction and sights of bombing past. The Germans, in their retreat, had killed all livestock and burned the crops. I was expecting the milk Schofield found to be poisoned but it seems that the enemy didn’t go that far.

1917-2a.jpgWhen an enemy plane crashes in the farm they were resting, the two men drag the burning and screaming pilot out and what happens next pretty much covers the saying “no good deed goes unpunished” as the German stabs Blake solidly in the stomach, creating a heavily bleeding wound. Schofield kills the German and holds his best friend as colour drains from his face and he holds tight in his bloodied hands a black-and-white picture of his family.

I cried then – this is a man who never managed to get married (even in a rush like most of his mates), would never know the joys of picking cherries again and was dead in a stupid incident caused by their own goodness. The death was bloody – and I really appreciated the medical detail they’ve put onto it. The way the face became paper white, the amount of blood soaking the rags pushed down to stop the bleeding and the total time it took Blake to die. All accurate.

From here on, the movie goes single-player mode and we feel the mounting desperation as the clock is ticking and Schofield is still far away from his mission end-goal. There was a stunning scene where he goes through a fire-lit stone ruins and the visuals were gorgeous. You didn’t need any dialogue – just looking at this man run for his life in darkness – but it’s not that dark as bullets and fires are making the night day.

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I loved the feeling of loneliness, of being the only one required and capable of completing this mission, of the promise he still holds for his dead companion to meet his brother. When he meets a young French woman, there’s a moment of reprise where he interacts with the little girl and recites to her a verse that I later on found out was from the poem “The Jumblies” by Edward Lear. The poem could be seen as a metaphor for Blake and Schofield’s mission.

” Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long, Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong..

When he finally escapes the city by jumping in the river, there’s a strong danger that with the head wound he received that he would faint and die and like Ophelia, he is at one point floating in the water, surrounded by white petals (signifying innocence). The tone goes dark again as Schofield has to clamber over bloated dead bodies to be able to get ashore. He stumbles into a camp (unaware it was the company he was looking for) and he listens in to a wonderful rendition of Wayfaring Stranger

 

When the ending does finally come, I am a mess. I’ve been crying on and off and the last bit destroyed me as “Wayfaring Stranger” is a personal favourite of mine. I was half expecting to see Schofield fail his mission, the General disregarding command orders and still engaging in battle or him arriving too late. It all seems to work out well – with a few casualties and there is one emotional scene where Schofield meets Blake’s older brother.

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Film bonus points:

  • Continuous shot with few visible edits
  • One day movie with a break when Schofield looses consciousness on the stairs and the day changes from day to night
  • The “breathers” and calm moments are well peppered in the movie
  • The action scenes are intense and 90% of the time I was thinking that Schofield is going to fall dead from the concussion, blood loss, infected hand (I mean he did touch barbed wire and then “dunked” his hand into a dead body)
  • The emotions are captured perfectly and rendered to the audience
  • The ability for Schofield to focus on his mission and send his own personal grief behind a wall where it wouldn’t interfere
  • The bond between men
  • Even though we know the outcome of WWI, there is no joy, there is no peace. Watch because it will allow you a glimpse at the horror and brutality of war; reflect on their service and sacrifice.
  • Because of the filming method, I felt like I was just a few paces behind the two of them and then behind the one. I felt the fear, the cold, the hunger, the desire to go home to my loved ones. I could see other’s faces – “shell shocked”, suffering from PTSD or plain crying as their minds collapsed in on themselves.

Solid 10/10

War Horse – The Theatrical Performance