1917 Movie Review

Experiences of the Lost Generation


War films about blood and gore do not particularly align with my conventional movie selections. However, Dr. McKenna, my IB History teacher, excitedly mentioned that the movie, 1917, was releasing soon. We had just finished studying the four brutal years of trench warfare that made up World War I, and, since I enjoy history, I gave the movie a shot. 

Some movies have an inexplicable style of artful storytelling, and director Sam Mendes proved this. 1917 is a brilliant testimony to the First World War—its distraught heroes and destruction to humanity and habitat.

Mendes tells a story of Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George McKay). In northern France, the two young soldiers are called on a mission: the Allied troops at the front lines are about to walk into a German ambush. They must get the message to the commanding officer by dawn or else 1,600 soldiers will perish. 

Tom Blake, a big-hearted jokester, and William Schofield, a dole-eyed brooding type, swiftly start their journey, accompanied by a lively soundtrack swelling with adventure. 

Mendes was inspired by stories of his grandfather, who, in his adolescence, carried messages along the Western Front in World War I. For a historical fiction movie, it feels oddly mythological. 

The camera follows the two soldiers with a ‘one-shot’ approach. This is fitting because 1917 uses the archetype of the Hero’s Journey (sometimes known as The Quest). The four symbolic elements of western literature also appear: earth, water, air, and fire. They manifest as trials for Schofield and Blake, the wrathful earth raging against the humans and their war.

Mendes’s thematic juxtapositions would make any English teacher a fanatic. Crisp shots of nature flank those of human desolation, life versus death. In one scene, Schofield crouches on spry, green fields near a ransacked farm, the limitless skies above. Shadows sink into the bags under his eyes. The young man looks so terribly old, it is jarring. 

Ironically, we rarely see bloodshed. Rather, the duo witnesses its aftermath as they voyage through No Man’s Land, a hellish territory of littered bodies between the French and German trenches. 

Death exists everywhere, so much so that it feels deranging. Corpses slump sleepily in puddles and are configured in strange poses in barbed wires. All sorts of grey limbs and sickening body parts are strewn on soil whenever the camera pans away from the heroes. 

With this homage to his grandfather, Mendes validates the experiences of the Lost Generation, the collection of youth who came of age during World War I. Blake and Schofield embody the many who wound up disoriented and delirious, unable to grasp what they had seen. “The war to end all wars” birthed an era of disillusionment and a generation of emotionally unstable adults. 

1917 is a heart-wrencher, so you may want to bring some tissues.