1917 is a story about two British soldiers in World War I sent by their commanding general to warn another battalion, currently preparing an assault on German forces, that they are in fact walking into a trap and playing right into the hands of the enemy. One of the two soldiers has a brother in that battalion and thus a deeper, personal stake in warning them of the impeding danger.
The film is directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), whose work I’ve increasingly admired since Road to Perdition–including two of the more recent Bond films starring Daniel Craig. Skyfall is actually my personal favorite in the whole series.
Anyway with 1917, Mendes reaches a new peak. Right from its opening scene, the film never lets go. This is no doubt aided by the one shot/one take method it employs, which involves shooting a scene in one shot, and thus one take, requiring the film’s cast and crew to be on-time and on-mark, fully synchronized as in a stage production. Personally, I love this style of shooting and I’m glad to see it being used more over the past few years. You might recall seeing it in Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman and The Revenant.
Much like those films, 1917 reminds us why it’s important to still see films in theaters; which, safe to say, is something slowly getting forgotten as we move further along into the digital streaming age and films become more accessible than ever before.
These feats of technical visual wizardry can only be truly appreciated in a theater, where audiences can better absorb stunning photography, vast landscapes and cutting-edge camerawork on a big screen, and perhaps better grasp the scope of what goes into staging such a large-scale production.
Seeing a film like this in a theater is a shared experience, one that allows us to get swept up in a visceral symphony of sight and sound, and thus–for a couple hours, at least–to forget the notion that we are total strangers from each other; which in the opinion of this humble filmgoer, is the real illusion.
Anyway to that point, I was reminded of the tremendous brutality, valor and sacrifice that form the fundamental components of war. Specifically, as is typically the case with the great war films or any effective telling of history, 1917 reminded me of my connection to those who have come before, and how much of our current world and thus our lives are shaped by history.
1917 is an a emotional, cathartic experience that honors, as much as any film is capable, the bravery of soldiers who fought for something bigger than themselves. Far from being mere escapism, it brought me closer to our world and history.