Friday, January 20, 2012


[Captain Henry Page and Bealeton at Army of the Potomac Headquarters, 1863]

Saw 'Warhorse' yesterday. I expected some sugary drivel about a boy and his horse. Wrong. Like 'Titanic' it was a sentimental little personal story set in the middle of an actual disaster. As with 'Titanic' the purpose of the little story was to sugar-coat a documentary about a larger subject. 'Warhorse' is about the Western Front during the First World War. Through the device of the horse, the Front is seen from the English, the French, and finally the German side. 

It is an excellent movie, well-made, reasonably well-acted, as one expects from Spielberg. Even though the horror of trench warfare is considerably toned down from the reality, it is still horrible enough that I strongly recommend that no one see this movie. Life is hard enough without recurring nightmares. Don't see this movie. An academic understanding of what the Western Front was all about is all modern Americans need to know about it.

Unfortunately the cinematography of Devonshire at the beginning and end of the movie was so mannered as to verge on the telling of a fairy tale. It detracted from the rest of the movie.

It occurred to me during the movie that any realistic portrayal of the First World War makes a compelling anti-war argument. The British are shown as understandable and human characters. The Germans are shown the same. One does not want to see anyone on either side killed.

The British charge into battle shouting "For G_d and the king!". Spielberg is subtle enough to omit scenes of the Germans doing the same, but leaves it to the viewer to realize that they must have done it too. He leaves it to the viewer to realize that the Germans fighting for Germany and the Kaiser were no more evil than Englishmen also fighting for king and country.

The odd symmetry is that just as any portrayal of the First World War leads to an anti-war argument, any portrayal of the Second World War leads to a pro-war argument. Whether the King defeated the Kaiser or the Kaiser defeated the King ultimately was no more important to English farm boys than it was to German farm boys. It was somebody else's fight that they got dragged into. And died horribly in their millions in the fighting of it.

The Second World War was the opposite. Whether the Nazis conquered Europe and perhaps eventually the world, was everybody's fight. It mattered intensely to English, German, and Russian farm boys who won. It was their fight, it was everyone's fight. The army of the Kaiser was not there to kill your mother. The Nazis were there to do precisely that.

So let no one accept Spielberg's anti-war message uncritically. The Second World War proves otherwise.

No comments:

Post a Comment