1917 ★★★★★

When I was five years old, having tea and lemonade on the hill near my house, a glider plane came ten feet from hitting me - it had fallen off course, and was trying to land. The wind funneling under its body was so great, and the sound so enormous that the scream my mother made still haunts me, twelve years later. This film is that feeling, personified. Children caught in the glare of something insurmountable, unrecognizable. Something that chills the flame inside them, and keeps it cold until the day they die.

Years go by now and we lose things constantly. Wristwatches are found in sewers and police stations. Boyfriends and girlfriends are thrown away like used matches, and yet we find other trinkets to fill their space like they’re letters in hangman – important at the time and yet transient, replaceable. This is what I was so aware of while watching, transfixed – this idea that the men I am so involved with on the screen are losing things constantly, as time slips through their fingers – and yet they’ll never find them again. I understand now why these men came home and never breathed a word of their experience to their lovers and sweethearts: how can you tell the person you love that you’ve lost the part that made them fall in love with you?

I was struck by the sheer magnitude of the thing – it appears like two continuous shots, ending and beginning with unconsciousness. It seems that the only time these men are free to do as they wish is in their dreams: although their lives seem like waking nightmares. It was haunting, how effortless the camera work seemed – so much so that I stopped analyzing it entirely and gave myself up to it, like sinking underwater. I was swept along with what I was told, cried when it overcame me and left feeling like it was the first time I’d come up for air.

I was fascinated with the casting director’s decision to cast two virtually unknown actors as the two leads and make one-scene-wonders out of hot-shots Firth and Cumberbatch. It makes sense. The people whose stories are recited to us are the generals who became politicians for the Second World War, or whose poetry outlasted the rest of them and us. Choosing unknowns to play the corporals reflects the sad reality of our times, and our choice that unless these brave men “make something worthwhile” of their time and create something massive – massive-r, somehow, than giving up their lives for the cause – than they will not be remembered.

And yet, what I’m left with, after being buried and exhumed in the absolute artwork that was this film, is the transience of it all. Blake talking like a child about the cherry blossoms at home when he catches sight of them on the battle-field reminds me of the plums that used to fall over our garden when I was a little girl. These men, like fruit and flowers, were beautiful, unused for what their purpose should have been. And now, like the plums in autumn, they too are left to rot on the fields, along with the knowledge only they knew, when they were too young to ever pass it on to them and theirs.

That’s the pity of war. You’re left with a bit of tin and a wilted sense of hope, and the rhetoric that what you fought for was all worth the tears.

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