1917 Review The Buff and The Blazer
Warning: Spoilers Below!
Sam Mendes’ 1917 has been the recipient of high praise for its technical achievements. One of the film’s obvious strengths is the feeling of total immersion. That is due in large part to Cinematographer Roger Deakons’ masterful visuals. Many articles have dissected and written about the cinematography of 1917 and rightfully so. However, one aspect of the film that is perhaps its greatest strength, is how well it captures the horrors of war.
One thing worth noting about 1917 is that it’s not a war film in the traditional sense. While it’s set within the theater of World War I, there are only a few short sequences of combat. Most of the film is centered on two young soldiers (Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield) as they navigate their way through battle-stricken terrain to deliver an urgent message. The plot of the film puts the horrific imagery of World War I on display for the audience. Roger Deakons took advantage of those elements to masterfully capture what it must have felt like to walk through no-man’s-land or the trenches. Together, he and Mendes convey to the audience from the very start, that war is hell on earth.
In a scene near the beginning of the film, the two main characters have to cross no-mans-land. Mendes and Deakons could have easily turned the sequence into an action effects spectacle. Instead, they chose to take their time and capture the carnage of a deserted battlefield. The production designers of the film pulled no punches and the audience follows the two characters through rotting bodies, rats, diseased pools of water and many other horrors. At one point, Schofield cuts his hand on barbed wire. A few minutes later, he falls into a pit and his cut hand gets lodged inside a soldier’s corpse.
There is another powerful scene mid way through the film involving the death of a character. The scene lasts for several minutes until it finally concludes. It feels long and is very uncomfortable to watch. You can literally see the color fade from the character’s face as he slowly dies. Moments like these are powerful reminders of the human costs of war.
While 1917 does take place within one of history’s most cataclysmic wars and displays its horrors very vividly, it’s not all doom and gloom. At times, the film contrasts the horrific imagery of war with moments of pure human decency. After an intense chase with Schofield, he slips into a small basement window where he discovers a young French woman hiding out with a baby. This scene highlights a really tender moment amidst all of the chaos.
When speaking with the woman, he finds out that the baby isn’t hers and she is just taking care of it. Schofield kneels down and for a brief moment, we see his humanity finally come out as he begins to sing to the baby. After spending what seems like only five minutes with them, it’s as if they give him a recharge of spirit, in order to complete the final leg of the mission.
Sam Mendes’ masterful directing, along with the stunning visuals of Roger Deakons, offers a compelling glimpse into the events of World War I. With all it’s horrors and rays of humanity, 1917 is an important reminder of the costs of war.
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