I went into 1917 completely blind. The most I knew about it was that is was a World War 1 film, a topic I don’t see explored nearly enough in cinema or other forms of media. It’s such an interesting and horrific time in human history because of how the entire war came about, and how it literally changed the […]
I went into 1917 completely blind. The most I knew about it was that is was a World War 1 film, a topic I don’t see explored nearly enough in cinema or other forms of media. It’s such an interesting and horrific time in human history because of how the entire war came about, and how it literally changed the world’s perception of war, and the actual end goals of what war is fought over. I’m not going to go into super great detail about it here because that’s a history lesson that could take hours upon hour of explaining, but I will say that, as a history buff, the fact that is was about World War 1 was enough to get me to go see it.
That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when the movie started and I discovered the whole thing was shot and edited to be one giant long take. There are parts where you can tell that cuts happen, but for the most part it works very well in selling the idea that it’s one long, continuous shot, and genuinely think that may be one of the best decisions this films makes, because while the story the movie was telling was good, the long take style elevates it into something special.
The plot is pretty simple. The British are about to attack a retreating German army, not knowing that it’s actually a trap. The main story is about our protagonist being tasked with navigating the front lines of World War 1 to reach the commanding officer and stop the attack. It starts off pretty slow, which makes sense due to the fact that they’re chasing a retreating enemy, but gets more and more intense as they get closer and closer to the combat and the impending attack. There are a few twists and turns to be sure, but overall, this is a road movie with a ticking clock to push the characters along. While I wouldn’t call it generic by any means, the true genius comes in with it being a continuous shot, as you see the character get worn down more and more by all the things he faces. What’s more, it’s all the more believable, and you feel it, because you’re being worn down too.
The movie has a way of breaking our main character a little bit at a time, dealing with a little more the closer he get’s to the front line. By making it a single shot, all those little things start to add up in a way they wouldn’t if there had been a cut in the movie. By the middle of the film, in what is probably the most stressful part of the whole ordeal, you started seeing him breaking down a little more each time, and you believe it because it’s all just one day to this character. Everything becomes much more believable and powerful for it, because when you see him kneeling down and crying after having to crawl over a mountain of dead bodies to escape a town occupied by Germans trying to kill him, you understand. You’re tired like he’s tired. He’s at the frayed ends of sanity and you’re right there with him. And when you see him get even a moment’s break, you’re grateful for the moment of rest you get before he has to go out and save an entire group of people rushing to their deaths. The scenes of quiet mean all the more when you, the viewer, are asking for it at the same time as the character.
Overall, the story doesn’t seem to be the main focus of this movie as much as the cinematography is. It serves it’s purpose in giving this character a setting that is pretty much as close to hell on earth as you can really get in my opinion, but the actual plot of the movie isn’t the important part here. Not to negate the performances of the actors here, but the way the movie is shot is about taking in the settings and the way the world is at this point, rather than the things happening to the people the story is focused on. The setting and the way the characters interact with it are far more interesting, and the camera tells as much of the story as the characters do, and to me, that’s the magic of this movie.
Because the key to this movie is making you feel like you just went through the hell that was World War 1, because the camera just took you through World War 1.
Posted by Austin Hamblen, Owner and Main writer of Endlessmonkey.com