Fahey’s Film Reviews: 1917

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A poster from the movie "1917" seen through the eyes of Jason Reyna '20

Trench warfare is a hellish nightmare, and Sam Mendes’ film “1917” captures that terror and anxiety with its harrowing long takes and immersive set design. Yet, where visuals and sound prevail, the story declines.

The enemy in this film is not the retreating German army, but time itself. Two British corporals, Will Schofield played by George MacKay and Tom Blake played by Dean-Charles Chapman must deliver a message to call off an attack that would result in the loss of 1,600 men, one of those being Blake’s brother. 

To escalate the tensions of the situation, Mendes chose to shoot the film in a way that portrays the whole film as one shot. The amount of effort, detail, and pre-planning that would go into such a project is indeed an impressive technical feat, and it adds a strong feeling of immersion into the story. 

The camera leads through a disgustingly comprehensive and sometimes horrifying array of imagery in the trenches. Piled bodies, scurrying rats, and yards of dirt and rubble make up the ugly landscape of the film. The terrifying images of war contrast with images of peace and religion in a way that criticizes the morals of those accountable for the violence. 

However, the film only gets to its highest points of impressiveness with its shots and effects. The story itself, adapted from the director’s grandfather’s anecdotes, is mostly made up of the typical banter of British soldiers. The dialogue, while trying to be sympathetic, lacks a humane tone given the circumstances that surround it. 

The story follows the hero’s journey archetype, plotting a singular “hero” on a mission to perform a task while also learning something important, and abides by the genre lazily. The film’s tone follows the precedent of many earlier films like it in that it dismisses the glory that comes with war. While not an adverse message, the film does not dig deeper to express it.

“1917” is an ambitious film that students who enjoy history will love to see. But, while it is an entertaining watch, it offers little in terms of writing and message that is memorable.