MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
War seems to be an ever-present part of life, coexisting with civilization from the very beginning of history. Every great book of history that covers decades of human achievement will necessarily include warfare. Great fantasy worlds – whether from J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, George Lucas, George R. R. Martin, or Stan Lee – will include battles between rival factions. Idealistic young people will continue to volunteer to fight for their country. And veterans will return home from battle convinced of the absurdity of war.
How should we think about war? Important subjects deserve thoughtful reflection. First-person accounts of history are powerful.
Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of Rings films, has done something truly amazing with his documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, in his reconstruction of World War I and the British military. Gathering together archival film footage from 100 years ago, Jackson first used computer technology to clean up, restore, time, and (sometimes) colorize the film images. Then he edited interviews from 50 years ago from war veterans remembering their time before, during, and after the war. He then added sound effects and source music and pulled everything together into one extended narrative.
It is a powerful experience. Even though armies are fighting one another on a global scale, the stories in this film are small and personal, filled with the details of life in the trenches. We hear about the bad food, the cold and dampness, the ever-present lice and rats, and sanitation problems. There are also moments of compassion and humor, with scenes of young men mugging for the camera. And days of quiet anticipation before the time of battle.
Through it all, we hear the voices of those who survived war and lived to tell the stories. In listening to their recollections and seeing everything in crisp, compelling images, these veterans are now leaving a legacy that they could never have imagined.
The United States military has been all volunteer for over 45 years. But there was a time when every able-bodied person was required to serve their country and go to war, if necessary. When I think about the dedicated service of those who have gone to war for their country, I comprehend that thousands of people have made a sacrifice that I was never required to make, with many of them dying young or living with disability.
This is something for people of faith to ponder. Try to find time to see They Shall Not Grow Old, or any of Ken Burns’ documentary series with personal recollections: The Civil War (1990), The War (2007), and The Vietnam War (2017). And then let us pray for the day when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4 NRSV)
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: Voices and images come back from the past in a moving and unforgettable remembrance of World War I.
Three pitchforks: Scenes of war violence and death; mild swearing; talk about brothels; and war itself.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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