1917: Do Sacrifices Really Matter?

The gripping WWI film wrestles with duty as it drags you through the mud.

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Source: DreamWorks/Universal Pictures
Source: DreamWorks/Universal Pictures

My wife and I finally saw the long-awaited war film 1917!

As a history buff of WWI in particular, I have been chomping at the bit to see this movie. Plus, it’s a unique experience as one of the only films to be a portrayed as a “one-er” — in film parlance, that’s what we call a long shot that doesn’t cut to capture a large portion of action. Most one-ers last a sequence or a scene, but not a whole film. To create this illusion, the filmmaker utilized long takes and strategized how to stitch them together seamlessly to create the illusion of one long shot.

This strong aesthetic decision personalizes the predicament of these men who are unable to escape or look away from the horrors of war. As director and co-writer Sam Mendez stated:

I wanted an audience to feel every second passing and take every step with them, and also be aware of geography and distance and physical difficulty. The feeling that you are going to have to live through the story with them is accentuated by not cutting.

Still, there’s deeper material to plumb in this riveting story than just the excellent visual craftsmanship. Cinematographer Roger Deakins even admitted that the movie “unspools in a world without a clear moral compass.” This highlights a troubling reality about the Great War, and war in general: Do sacrifices matter?

Story

Duty and the cost of human life are shown over and over throughout the narrative:

  • Many of the characters portrayed are so numbed by the carnage surrounding them that they treat imminent death as a laconic joke. The pessimistic Lt. Leslie even calls one of his men a “bloody waste of space” to his face.

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