- Film & TV
- 23 Jan 20
Nerve shattering WWI film immerses audience in fear and horror.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said that “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” In this sense, fear may be an integral part of heroism itself, as ordinary people embrace ideals and courage – even if their fear is never overcome. Sam Mendes’ immersive, beautiful and terrifying 1917 is a stunning portrayal of courage and heroism, precisely because it understands and evokes fear so masterfully.
Based over the course of one day in World War I, two British soldiers, Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are ordered to undertake a mission for which no soldier could possibly be prepared. In order to deliver a message that could save 1,600 British soldiers – including Blake’s brother – the two young men must cross the battlefield in broad daylight, sneak through German bunkers, and walk through the sniper-filled ruins of a city. If these two men weren’t constantly panicked and terrified, they wouldn’t be human.
And Sam Mendes’ film is so very human. The men’s fear; their compassion for other wounded soldiers they meet, regardless of nationality; the quieter moments when they reveal glimpses of their humour and home life; how they protect each other – all are heartwrenchingly portrayed, through natural dialogue and carefully considered pacing.
Shot masterfully by Roger Deakins, the men’s journey through a daylight nightmare of barbed wire, dead bodies, mud, rats, labyrinthine trenches, and wide open spaces with nowhere to hide, unfolds like one long, fluid, unbroken shot, with edits brilliantly hidden. This shooting style serves three purposes; to create a POV-heightened sense of empathy, as the viewer feels they’re right beside Blake and Schofield for every gruelling moment; to deliberately prevent any sense of escape from the nerve-shattering horror; and to heighten the tension, as we become acutely aware of time – and how the men are racing against it.
Deakin’s gorgeous and disturbing imagery also captures the paradoxes of warscapes: the beauty and horror of dead bodies beside cherry blossoms; a city emitting a golden halo from flares and fires.
An emotional and artistic masterclass.