There is only one way this war ends…
April 6th, 1917. A story of a messenger who has a message to carry begins. I struggle using word “adventure” because I associate it with something nice and funny. Mission, to stop the attack and save sixteen hundred souls. But… There is only one way this war ends. Last. Mand. Standing. Is it worth it? Can you really call it a win? Thousands of stories ended abruptly, with no happy ending.
This might contain spoilers to the plot – fair warning!
Gehenna, or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest who travels alone
Let me start with this – given a choice between a war movie and any other movie, I would pick any other. There are exceptions like Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk or Enemy at the Gates. Exceptions to the rule. It’s a tricky piece of cinema, wouldn’t you agree? Also – I just remembered, can we add Apocalypse Now to “war-movies list”? It was so damn good! Anyway, I try to write my own stories and they usually circle about one core story, but in the creative process, I never once ever thought about writing something about war. Or even in times of war. It’s just sad and to me, war makes no sense. Irony is, I got my master degree in the field of National Security at Military Academy of Land Forces, plenty of stories from the front line.
Every war story carries pain, tears, pointlessness and death. My mum says, that all of those movies are the same to her and honestly? I can’t blame her. Schematics are pretty much the same – peacefully beginning, protagonist (or in this case two of them) with dreamy eyes and heart of gold, suicidal mission, obstacles on the way, happy / not so happy ending.
But 1917 is not another war movie. It raised the bar so high, I’m not sure anyone will ever jump over. I should mention here that I’m really tired and thus really on the edge of my emotions, but… You know me, right? You know that I see movies twice, three times, four, five, eight times. I watched 1917 two times, both in IMAX. During my first try, exactly one week ago, there were only few people in the theater so it was quite intimate. And thank Gods! Second try was last Thursday with Marta and my reaction was even worse – in a good way, if that makes sense?
I’m bloody starving, aren’t you? I thought we might get some decent grub out here. It was the only reason I decided against the priesthood.
Movie starts under the tree. Peaceful shot of two men – Lance Corporals Tom Blake and Will Schofield, napping. They have no idea what’s coming, once they are woken up. General’s mission is simple: deliver a message to Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, calling off morning attack. Germans who ran away, were building another front line, with artillery no one have ever seen before. Sixteen hundred men walking right into a trap… Including Tom’s brother, Joseph. Now, I know that soldier must always follow a direct order, but wouldn’t you hesitate with a mission like that? Suicidal. Crossing no man’s land, abandoned town, following German’s footsteps right into he heart of war. But for young Tom this was not up for discussion. He picked Schofield for this not knowing in what they’re getting into, but if he’d have to go alone, he would.
Sam Mendes decided to drag viewer right into this mess. Movie was created to look like “one-shot”, like we’re in there with Tom and Will, squeezing through the tight, one-way corridors, that seem to be an endless maze. We slide with them through the mud, crouch through the barbed wire. Long takes, with embellished choreographed camera moves, gives you feeling that this is one continued shot. Which overall is even more terrifying to watch – it’s a panoramic shot of a war horror.
1917 was inspired by a true story – Alfred Mendes, Sam’s grandfather was just a 16-year-old during World War I. He carried a message through no man’s land. One of his assets was that he was only little over 162cm tall and could often hid by the battleground’s fog that usually hung as high as 182 cm. He never talked about his wartime experience until he was in his 70s, and his stories were inspiration for Sam. After all, he dedicated this movie to his granddad, who served as Lance Corporal in The Kings Royal Rifle Corps during The Great War.
I don’t think there is any better way for artists and creators around the world, to honor they loved ones.
I hoped today might be a good day. Hope is a dangerous thing…
Acting in this movie is one of the things that sent me over the edge. Young generation swept me of my feet! Dean-Charles Chapman as Tom Blake and George MacKay as Will Schofield are absolutely marvelous on screen. Their struggle with reason, constant support for one another and complementing each other is what creates core of the story. True, unbreakable brotherhood, equally strong to blood. The way they cared for each other… You can’t force that. I’m really happy that better-known and famous people were more in the back ground, like fine Andrew Scott, or distingue Colin Firth, or – to my big surprise – wonderful Mark Strong. And Richard Madden of course. Each of them blew me away, because, classic me, I had no idea who else is in this movie. But it was the younglings that made my heart skip a beat. Also, side note – let’s just agree that Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor but I wanted to punch him so bad.
The most emotional scene? No, not that one. The one when Schofield gets a ride to Écoust, soldiers are telling funny stories and he just sits there, numb. With tears in his eyes, completely zoned out. He just lost a friend, a brother. Someone, who could make people smile through the dark times. All Tom wanted was to save his brother, so in May they can pick cherries again. And I think that’s what hit me the hardest – pointlessness of war. The death, the casualties… It just breaks my heart.
Age before beauty.
MacKay’s and Champan’s performances are award worthy. They absolutely crushed it and I can tell you just why – when I was watching it for the second time, I could pay a little more attention to what was happening in the background. Like, when Schofield looks at his comrade when Blake goes first. Or when Blake saves Schofield life, dragging him from under the rocks of the German bunker. Or the way Schofield talks about going back home for a leave, with tears in his eyes. The way Schofield motivates other soldiers to push truck that got stuck – another heartbreaking moment for me. Moments after tragic death, he gets an opportunity to reach Écoust, but the truck buries in the mud. He’s so dedicated that at first he pushes alone. But seeing how desperate he was, others follow.
Being so damn emotional on screen is something not everyone can learn. It comes naturally and it’s rare enough, this is why we appreciate it so much. I was delighted to watch those two young men on screen.
Strong, dedicated, emotional performance. Great technique of shooting. Wonderful cast. Thrilling, engaging, true story. Mind-blowing visual effects. One more thing, and you have a recipe for an Oscar. Soundtrack.
You can’t possibly make it that way man, are you bloody insane?!
Thomas Newman. He turned this movie into a masterpiece with his score. It’s a sure win for me in “Best original score” category. I’m sorry, Joker. Your music was wonderful, but this one… Hands down. Best score of the year. Critical scene. Schofield must reach Colonel McKenzie immediately, for him to stop the attack, withdraw his men. Young corporal will not take any more losses. Now, close your eyes and listen. Just listen to this track. You know exactly what happens now, you know when it happened. That moment, when, as YouTube comment section gracefully puts it: Lance Corporal Schofield has entered the battlefield. 4:30.
Last Sunday, when I watched 1917 I had one thought in my head. Okay, I had million thoughts but this one was very clear: I have to buy the soundtrack. I saw two other movies that day, but all I could think about was that score. I got the CD, I went home, played it and cried all evening.
In October I went with my mum for a “Hans Zimmer Tribute” in Wroclaw and I remember saying something about soundtracks. “The most powerful type of music. A good piece can make you feel the way you should feel, effortlessly. It warms up your heart or slowly breaks it with a single piano note. It’s an integral part of every movie, but as a separate „entity” can teleport you to another place. Now, put on your favorite piece of soundtrack. Close your eyes. Few seconds in and you can see the exact scene from the movie, right? Clear your head. Where are you now?” I think that sums it up perfectly. Each time I listen to 1917 score, I’m there with Blake and Schofield.
He was a good man. Always telling funny stories. He saved my life.
Movie ends under the tree. Schofield reaches for a small tin, he been carrying around with him. The greatest treasure. He lost so much to this war. Come back to us…
1917 to me was entirely new experience. They way it was filmed, taking me on the same journey, making me responsible for Blake’s death, Schofield’s life and fate of sixteen hundred men, was… I didn’t see that coming. Some might say that it was created to get all of the awards, and even if, so what? What really matters is the moral, which in this case is plain and simple – war is merciless, cold and makes no sense. It can force you to do unspeakable things. But… If there is an opportunity to save even one life, we should always take it. No matter what.
I’m still torn about the Oscars. I cannot believe that I wanted to work for The Academy and vote for the movies, actors, composers… Damn it.
Although now that I think about it… War broke so many hearts. I’m glad that Sam Mendes took those broken hearts and made it into art.
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