The Best Picture Nominees: 1917

| February 6, 2020

The 92nd Academy Awards are just days away, so this week I am taking a look at each of the nominees individually. Are they worth it? Let’s take a look,

Image result for 1917 2019

If Marriage Story feels like the kind of movie that fit comfortably as a Best Picture nominee, then Sam Mendes 1917 feels more like the kind of safe bet that the Academy voters would pin as their final choice. It’s audience-pleasing, heroic, uncomplicated and, most especially, doesn’t seem to challenge the viewer in any way.

That is, by no means, to suggest that it is bad or unworthy, it is just to say that it doesn’t leave you with much to think about when it’s over. Pretty much everyone watching the film will walk away with the same feeling, the same experience and will walk in with the same expectation.

At least, this is what I thought at first.

Bear with me.

1917 tells the story of two British Tommies during WWI who are given the mission of delivering a message that will call off an attack by the British Army that is doomed to fail after the German retreat back to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich. The retreat, they learn, is an ambush by the Germans and thousands of British troops will be slaughtered if the attack isn’t called off.

This is thrilling stuff and the long journey for these two soldiers isn’t fraught with a lot of battle scene but rather the aftermath of the battle as the allied and enemy forces have moved forward (The set decoration here is incredible).

As thrilled as I was, all through the movie, I kept asking myself: ‘Why is Sam Mendes telling this story?’ Beyond its described plot details, the story doesn’t have a lot of meat on it. But then . . . but then, I got to the end and realized that this story is in honor of Mendes grandfather and the stories he told. That information brought the story home, a story of heroism in the face of an impossible situation in a war fraught with contrasts and dead ends – a world war that, in fact, destroyed a world.

And then something else occured to me when the film was over: The film opens by telling us that it begins on April 2, 1917, the day that The United States declared war on Germany. At this crucial tipping point, Germany was starving, Britain was bankrupt and the Russians had gone home to build communism. The fresh American troops were about to turn the tide of the war’s bloody stalemate.
So, even if the German assault at Operation Alberich had worked, it would have been for nothing – they were about to lose the war anyway.

That, in a very clever way, tells you of the futility of this war and the importance of this mission. Two soldiers are sent to prevent thousands of men on both sides from dying, basically, for nothing.

I started by calling the movie ‘safe’ and from an artistic standpoint, yes, it is. But it left me with a lot to think about when it was over. It left me thinking about the larger scope of this war, the ways and means of war itself. What does it cost? What does it mean when its all over? Who pays the price? And what is left of individual lives and the world entire when we are left to pick up the pieces?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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