Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George Mackay, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden.
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
‘1917’ tells the story of two soldiers who must deliver a message to a battalion set to advance on the German front. The story may at first appear quite simple, but with time against them, land that no other soldier dare cross ahead and desolate areas of war which no longer feature any nature, but rather the cold wiring and metal of human influence, the narrative of ‘1917’ presents its own complexities and terrors.
Perhaps best described as an ‘anti-story,’ the events which occur throughout the narrative of ‘1917’ all work against the outcome which both the audience and the protagonist wish for. Rather than a piece of entertainment, the film presents itself as more of a dutiful respect to those who endured the horrors of war. Every step in the necessary journey which Schofield and Blake must carry out is another step towards our conclusion, and any event which distracts them from this is only a greater enemy to the overarching resolution of this story. Put simply, the audience desires to see them reach their goal before time runs out.
It would be unjust to describe ‘1917’ as simple. Of course, the narrative does remove many of the complexities which are found within a typical drama, but this is necessary for the sake of the realism which is created. Director Sam Mendes allows for a clear distinction between the goal-oriented plot and the wider thematic story. A multitude of relevant topics are touched on throughout the film, as our two leads articulate their approach to honour, family and trauma in ways which any two young men would. They don’t deliver any elegant monologues on what should be owed to those who lay down their lives, because that isn’t what their character would do. Instead, short anecdotes and simple sentences build a basis for what they feel is right in a world of conflict.
There are two key elements of film form which build on such an idea of personal perspective – the cinematography and the sound. Roger Deakin’s deserves all the praise that he has received for his contributions as the cinematographer of the film. Not only is the illusion of the ‘one-shot’ perfectly executed and used in a manner which is relevant to the story, as it allows for the narrative to develop in a way which can build tension or hold a moment of beauty with apparent ease, but also the ideas conveyed through the visuals compliment the message of each scene excellently. Composer Thomas Newman also provides another layer to the film, with an accompaniment which feels not only articulate but necessary. Each scene is developed as a result of his contributions. I also appreciated his decision to abstain from any leitmotifs – a recurring musical idea which accompanies a greater theme or idea – as this would lack relevance to the diegesis. Once these characters leave for the mission, their entire purpose is deliver the message they carry. Every second is a further exploration into the unknown, and the composition reflects this.
‘1917’ is an experience which brings to light many ideas. Not only from a film making perspective, but also in the way we remember and appreciate the sacrifices given by these young soldiers, with so many just wanting to do the best that they could for those around them, and those that they love.