While the spell-binding single shot camerawork, seamless editing and awards confirm the technical brilliance of Sam Mendes’ 1917, what made me weep was the story of two young men in uniform – soldiers at war, men turned into lethal weapons yet carrying a gentle heart.
1917 is the tale of two young British soldiers during the time of World War I. With field telephone lines cut, Blake and Schofield are asked to hand-deliver a message to the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, ordering them to call off their planned attack, which might cost the lives of 1,600 men including Blake’s brother Lieutenant Joseph Blake.
For me, 1917 is a must-watch for the emotional duality it carries in every frame. The film’s brilliance lies in the fact that every character is doomed and yet ‘hope’ lives on. The white cherry blossoms settle on Schofield when he almost gives up for a minute and wants to drown in the river. The cherry blossoms gently settle on bloated dead bodies dumped in the river, driving home Schofield’s duty to deliver the message of his dead friend. He has to live on.
The brilliance also lay in the song these bone-dead, tired, murderous soldiers sang: “I am just going over Jordan. I am just going over home. There is no sickness, no toil, no danger. In that bright land to which I go.”
The brilliance was in the milk Schofield offers to the baby saved by a young woman. For a second, they were a family. The baby drinks the milk brought by a strange soldier who found it lying fresh and innocent in an abandoned farmhouse, which had just been destroyed by German planes. Finding that pristine milk was like a little miracle Blake and Schofield had witnessed and celebrated moments before Blake was brutally stabbed because of his innate kindness towards a dying man, even though he wore the uniform of the enemy.
These moments leave an impact because it reminds me of a very visceral fact of life: Life and death are not made of spectacles, but small silent moments. Momentous life-changing events will be put in motion by a delicate cherry blossom, or fresh milk from a cow that survives a bullet.
What also made 1917 brilliant for me was the resilience of the human spirit. Just like grass, we humans survive, and we surface. Despite the wars, the ammunitions, the bombings, the dead horses, the floating bodies, the ravaged landscapes, there always will be a young woman protecting an abandoned child, and there always will be a soldier who will comfort them – even if for five seconds. And that will change the course of their destinies. The hungry baby will survive this despair and war and will go on to live a full beautiful life.
Coming to the last scene where Schofield informs the Lieutenant of his younger brother’s death. The devastating loss and grief of a brother touched all of us, but the real victory for me lay in the last line of comfort, “If I may. I would like to write to your mother and tell her that Tom wasn’t alone. He was a good man. Always telling funny stories.” We carry each other in us. We carry each other’s burdens.
Be it in times of peace or in times of strife and war, the human soul triumphs every time. Perhaps that’s why despite all the darkness, we strive and cling to hope. Hope for a better tomorrow.
These themes are so important in today’s times of discord and unrest. Be it a country in turmoil or the world at war. Hope and humanity always survive.
Generation after generation, we beat the monsters all the time. Sometimes all it takes is a white cherry blossom or a familiar song that keeps us going when all we want is to drown and lay peacefully at the bottom of a raging river. But unlike the bullets, the songs reach us there too. We survive.
(Kanika Dhillon is an author and Bollywood screenwriter.)
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