1917 : Spectacle with a Soul

Enough and more has already been said about the awe that you are left with as you experience the cinematic spectacle called 1917, and how the tremendous craftsmanship of Sam Mendes wonderfully integrates everything from the ‘one take‘ cinematography in constantly changing war terrain, to impeccable battlefield action choreographed against mighty impressive warzone design, to terrific editing, to pitch perfect sound design and background score, to deliver the most compelling and visually enthralling theatrical experience in a long long time.

Paragraphs at length can be written about how this film is a sensory high of the most impactful kind, leaving you gasping for breath through and through, even without very intense actual battlefield action overpowering the screen continuously. So the best way to truly appreciate this technical marvel is by personally experiencing its cinematic brilliance in the largest screen possible without much delay rather than only talking or reading about it.

But 1917 as a film soars a lot more because amidst all the technical mastercraft, it never loses its human soul in spite of its simplistic context; and becomes a heartening commentary on the futility of war and how its brutality wants to gain an upper hand over the innocence and goodness of young soldiers trapped in the warzone and their fight for life. It is not any valor or strong sense of nationalism that has driven two young British soldiers to the battlefield of World War I. Perhaps the battlefield provides better food options on the table than Priesthood, they say. They are wary about going back to their families because they can’t take the goodbyes that follow. One of them has taken up a critical mission purely driven by a personal goal of seeing his brother safe who is fighting somewhere in the frontline, while the other one doesn’t even like that he is part of this dangerous mission. They seem truly caught on the wrong side of action, least wanting to be there, or least liking anything happening around them. And that seems to be the story of almost every other ordinary soldier they meet along the way.

And then come those treacherous 12 hours of their lives where the cruelty of war, their close encounters with death and the devastation it brings about changes them forever. Somewhere it kills their innocence that had driven them to even save the enemy from a crashing warplane and giving him water without thinking twice about the consequences. Somewhere it evokes the deepest human empathy in them as they meet helpless civilians desperately seeking shelter from war, and they very naturally part with all their food and supplies, in other words the lifeline for which they were in the battlefield in the first place. Somewhere it instantly triggers their passion and hidden courage that pushes them to see through the finish line of their professional mission and fulfill the last words promised in an intimate personal space, without thinking about the price they may have to pay for this. And somewhere, through this deeply human journey, we are naturally drawn in to be the impersonation of those soldiers in the battlefield and experience the entire range of emotions associated with the futility of the war firsthand, as if all of it happened to us throughout. The visual storytelling mode of Mendes and team only further amplifies this deeply personal experience.

There is only one way in which this war can come to an end – with the last man standing‘. As one of the experienced senior officers wisely shares this observation towards the end of the film, we see this perspective poetically translate into screen as Sam Mendes‘s vision and Roger Deakins‘s camera zooms in to a lone tree standing tall with all its branches trying to give shelter to a tired and torn soldier seeking solace in treasured family pictures, who are praying somewhere far away for him to return safely to them and to their cherry blossoms. Hopefully at the end of it, the war was somewhat kind to the overall goodness of that brave soul and the prayers of his family were answered. As I walked out of theatre, I also sincerely wished that the night (and the days that followed) was hopefully not too cruel to the kind hearted French lady and the abandoned little baby as well, and they lived on to see brighter times beyond all the atrocities of war and its deathly hallows.

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Copyright ©2020 Jayashree Chakravarti.This article cannot be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL can be used instead.

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