Cruelty on Display: A Look at the Anti-War Film

Part One: Shock and Awe

“Some films claim to be anti-war, but I have never seen an anti-war film. Ever film about war ends up being pro-war.” -Francois Truffaut

Modern culture has an odd relationship with war. Most people are aware intellectually that war is a terrible thing, and media in particular tries to depict this fact on that level, but the actual nature of media, the structure and craft of it, consistently suggest a very different picture on an emotional level. This is a very difficult thing to explain in words, but it makes a lot more sense when shown in examples. However, it is important to recognize that this is an underlying pattern, not necessarily an inherent aspect to film. Truffaut’s quote is interesting food for thought, but are things truly so simple

First off, it’s important to establish that there are two primary subgenres within the war genre of film. First is what can be called the historical event film, also known as the historical epic. These are films that focus on dramatizing real events, usually ones of great spectacle and importance. Good examples are films like Waterloo, A Bridge Too Far, and We Were Soldiers. Each of them is wildly different in tone and level of focus, and it can be hard to pin them down ideologically. Waterloo for example gives a largely neutral depiction of events, showing the battle from the perspective of both the British and the French in largely equal measure, celebrating the triumphs of both when they occur. Now, this is still political, both in the way all filmmaking is to greater or lesser extent, and more specifically in that taking a neutral stance on a historical war, regardless of which war it is, is itself a political statement. A great example to make this point is the film Gettysburg, a film that in seemingly taking a neutral stance on the American Civil War unduly lionizes the Confederacy and the Lost Cause myth. This is a fascinating phenomenon, but ultimately this has to be a sidetrack, because at the end of the day, this kind of film is not what people are referring to when they say “war film” nine times out of ten.

The second subgenre of war film, and the far more popular of the two, is what could be called the “war story” film, which depicts fictional characters and (usually) fictional events that are meant to capture a feel, message, or tale around the war being shown or even war in general, rather than focus on military history. The vast majority of war films, especially in recent decades, are in this category. In addition, the disconnect from the real history and focus on narrative writing means that the ideological bend of the story comes into much sharper focus as the story invariably will shed more attention on it. And it is this style of film where the true distinction is made.

To circle back around to Truffaut, the point he was making in this quote was that every movie centered on war at the time, even those with anti-war themes like Paths of Glory or Dr Strangelove, still ultimately had a pro-war edge to them by indulging in the spectacle of violence in a way that is ultimately entertaining, despite their more critical overarching tone. This matters because while the story’s themes and writing are highly critical of war on an intellectual level, ultimately the moment to moment craft of filmmaking made it so that the violence was entertaining, which sanitized the experience. On some level it’s unavoidable that the audience will have a disconnect, as at the end of the day they are experiencing everything in a safe environment and can detach themselves more easily as a result. That said, this effect is often overstated, and the far bigger deciding factors come from the craft of the films themselves, something that is only determined on a film-by-film basis. Thus, the primary way to look at this dichotomy is with examples.

Part Two: Heroism

“Every war movie, good or bad, is an anti-war movie.” -Steven Spielberg

While it is true that many war films are overtly focused on spectacle and entertainment, and implicitly pro-war in that regard, where things really get muddy is films that are expressly anti-war, as they have something to say on the subject, and that gives them much clearer thematic definition, along with making their common problems all the more starkly visible. Foremost, what happens when a film has anti-war intent, but ultimately suffers from dissonance thematically from clashing themes or filmmaking that doesn’t mesh with the story presented?

It is thoroughly impossible to talk about war films as a genre without talking about the enduring influence and legacy of Saving Private Ryan. That quote from Spielberg comes from an interview he did to promote the film, and his point in saying it was that every war film regardless of quality inevitably shows to greater or lesser extent the presence of violence in warfare, and the values of the average audience member include the belief that violence is wrong and not something to be exalted. While this may be true intellectually, it unfortunately does not hold up nearly as well in practice, and Saving Private Ryan is a perfect example of this. Everyone loves to talk about the first major sequence after the framing scene, but discussions always seem to forget or ignore the rest of the film, and this is irritating because for all the praise the opening gets, the rest of the film is completely different, to the point where their themes and goals are completely at odds with each other. The Omaha sequence depicts warfare as something chaotic, brutal, and full of death that is ultimately meaningless. Nobody who dies in the sequence does so in service of anything, they’re gunned down seemingly at random, in the middle of doing nothing of greater consequence. This is the kind of depiction of combat one would expect from an anti-war perspective, it depicts war as cruel and fundamentally pointless. If this sequence were released as a short film, then it would be an excellent depiction of the realities and fundamental wrongness of war. Unfortunately, it’s stapled to the rest of the film, in a story that ultimately cheapens it by association. When discussing the film, both Spielberg and screenwriter Robert Rodat said that they wanted to make it both critical of war itself, and yet still honoring the soldiers who fight in it. And to put it as bluntly as possible, those two themes are incompatible. There are two possible means of “honoring the soldiers”, either lionizing the men themselves as heroes, or lionizing the cause as righteous, and both of these glorify war itself. If the soldiers are heroes for fighting in it, then to fight, kill, and die in war is itself a heroic act. If the cause is righteous, then to fight for it is a righteous and glorious mission. Either way, glorifying the men who fight in war inherently valorizes war itself. This actually speaks to a militaristic undercurrent in American society, the sacred pedestal that soldiers are placed on is a fundamental characteristic of militarism, and one that American culture is utterly enraptured with. So even films that claim to criticize war itself are fundamentally handicapped by a complete inability to criticize one of the most fundamental aspects of war: the men who wage it. Should this be an aspect above criticism? Should the men who fight war be respected or venerated? Well, to answer that it would be instructive to look at another odd mixed bag of an example.

Depictions of World War II are rather odd, as it’s all too easy to fall into a trap. World War II is unique among wars in the nature of the enemy fought, no other power in history matches the sheer cruelty of Nazi Germany, and as a result the temptation is always there to portray the fight against them as a just cause. While this is understandable, it’s a very dangerous tightrope to walk as it runs headlong into that problem of valorizing war itself in the process. That constraint does not apply whatsoever to other conflicts though, and films about them have much more room to openly criticize every aspect of war. A particularly unique example is Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, which has some unusual issues of its own. In complete contrast to something like Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket is a film about the dehumanizing nature of military culture and the inhumanity it breeds in the men subjected to it. This is as anti-war as a theme gets, a biting and vicious criticism of the fundamentals of militarism itself. And yet, there’s a problem, one no filmmaker can control. Common in reactions to the film is that audiences responded very positively to the boot camp section, but felt that the section in the actual war was a weak follow up. And this just does not make sense with a cohesive reading of the film, the only way to make sense of it is to thoroughly miss the entire central theme of the film. This is a unique situation created by the interaction of the film with the culture it is a part of. Despite the revulsion the public felt towards the Vietnam War, that did not extend to the institution of the military itself, and so the critique of it went ignored as instead audiences pushed off the blame onto the characters being weak, rather than the institution itself being cruel. This kind of interaction between the audience and the film is something that’s almost impossible to predict, though Kubrick’s characteristic silence on the meaning of the film certainly did not help matters. The actual text of the film is very clear, the military beats the individuality out of its soldiers to minimize their selfish survival instinct and the possibility of them hesitating to kill. Throughout the first half of the film, the only one who refuses to buy into this framework is Joker, he never truly discards his self the way the others do, and as a result, in the fight with the sniper, he hesitates, and some of his comrades die for it. The film ends with him executing the sniper and completing his journey in the eyes of the system, and in the final scene it’s impossible to tell which of the soldiers he is, he has fallen in with the rest. The text of this is very explicit and almost impossible to miss as it gets a lot of focus. So the film as a whole is a unique and interesting case of a film that is very clear and biting in its critique, but ultimately goes misread by an audience who misunderstood the most critical component of the film’s themes. As bizarre as it is, this is actually not an uncommon issue with Vietnam films in specific, there’s very often an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance in play to square the films’ critique of war with the audience’s exaltation of the military. This is simultaneously an unpredictable reaction on a per film basis, and also an uncomfortably common trend in the genre as a whole. When it comes down to it, the likely answer to this mystery is the cultural dominance of the idea of heroism in war, something that predates film itself by centuries and is dominant to the point of monolithic in the industry, and indeed in culture as a whole.

At the risk of sounding overly harsh on the works of Spielberg, there is one more of his films that needs to be talked about in this point, and it’s perhaps his most critically beloved: Schindler’s List. While not a bad film by any means, it is the first and foremost example of the heroism in wartime structure applied to civilians, which while much rarer in war-themed films is equally important to talk about. Now nobody would have much issue with regular civilians helping each other in the wake of devastation, say, a construction crew who saves a person trapped under rubble for example, but when it comes to depictions of explicitly wartime heroism, that is almost never the case. A common formula revolves around the partisan, a civilian figure mythologized as a soldier forced to fight for what they believe in, which runs into the same problems as the usual fare. A unique example is the lionizing of the boat operators in the film Dunkirk, an interesting grey area between the civilian hero and the partisan, celebrating ordinary civilians who risked their lives to rescue soldiers. Dunkirk is unabashedly a pro-war movie though, so this kind of hero worship is to be expected. It becomes much more strange when it appears in a film that’s ostensibly anti-war, which is where Schindler’s List comes in. Films about the Holocaust are by necessity extremely grim (unless they’re Life is Beautiful, but that film is both terrible and considered extremely offensive by many survivors and their families), and that of course makes sense, the greatest atrocity in human history is not a place one looks to find hope or inspiration, or so one would think. Well, that thought would prove to be wrong, as it turns out there is an entire subgenre of Holocaust fiction that attempts to find hope in the situation, and they all suffer severe problems. More obvious examples like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas have earned extremely loud and vitriolic criticism, but Schindler’s List often flies under the radar, for the same reason Saving Private Ryan does. Spielberg is a talented filmmaker, and when he decides to portray something grim, he does a superb job of it. But exactly like Saving Private Ryan, when people praise the film, they only refer to one part of it, and seem to forget about the rest. Much like Saving Private Ryan did with the Omaha sequence, Schindler’s list does an excellent job capturing the bleak, oppressive atmosphere and casual disregard for human life that defined the Nazi concentration camps, but then drops that to focus on a more traditional hero narrative that forms the core of the film’s story. This is where one of Spielberg’s biggest limitations as a filmmaker comes in, for all his skill at the craft, he is limited in what he can create filmically by his worldview. Spielberg is fundamentally an optimist, and that shows through in all of his films. If there is one thing he cannot portray at all in film, it’s cynicism, or indeed despair. And this is reflected in his view of war as a genre, that the mere presentation of violence is enough to on some level constitute opposition to it, which is a very optimistic outlook on the craft that ultimately falls short, and this goes a long way towards explaining the disconnect in his films. When he aims to be anti-war, he doesn’t take the perspective of war being futile, death being meaningless, or cruelty being the sole mode of conduct, he takes the perspective that it being violent is what makes it wrong, but that being good within it is still possible and something to strive for. As inspiring as this theme may be, ultimately it comes back to the initial problem. War has no heroes. The myth of heroism is just that, especially in this context, and the portrayal of soldiers, civilians, and other war figures as heroes inherently sanitizes the most critical parts of war to oppose. And that’s without lionizing a German industry baron whose claim to heroism was caring enough about his literal slave labor force to try and keep them alive by maintaining their work for him, which is a whole other can of worms. The greatest thing standing in the way of anti-war cinema is the construct of heroism and its universality in story structure. But that’s not the only aspect of anti-war writing, there is another that is equally interesting.

Part Three: Goodbye, Blue Sky

“It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war.” -Erich Maria Remarque

A growing aspect of war film in the more recent decades has been the psychological effect war has on the people who live through it, soldier and civilian alike. While rudimentary forms of examining war’s effects on the psyche date back to Carl von Clausewitz, for most of the last few centuries, the prevailing attitude surrounding war had been that it was a thing to seek glory in, an exciting adventure for the youth to participate in. As a result, negative lasting effects on the psyche were individualized and dismissed as caused by mental or emotional weakness. This persisted up through the World War I era, where the condition known as Shell Shock was stigmatized and shamed by broader society. However it would be here that things began to change. World War I was a continent-wide traumatic cataclysm, the likes of which were never before seen in history and the fallout of which arguably persists to this day. The aptly-named Lost Generation was the first to take steps in the direction of understanding and sympathizing with the pain of survivors, soldier and civilian alike. The seminal work in this regard is All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel heavily based on author Erich Maria Remarque’s experiences in the war. The main character, Paul Baumer, heavily based on Remarque himself, is a constant window into the fears, pain, and insecurities bred by war. This trend persists across both film adaptations, though both take vastly different approaches to his character. The first film has him buckle under the weight, demonstrated the best in a film-original scene where he speaks to a class of schoolchildren exactly like his from before the war, and when he tells them how horrifying and unbearable the front truly is, they call him a coward for it. The second film sticks much closer to the book, where for all the misery Baumer undergoes, he does his damndest to stick to the model of a “good soldier” until he finally can’t anymore and emotionally disconnects entirely from his surroundings. Both of these interpretations, while wildly different, do an equally good job of capturing the pain and struggle that came from living through the war, and marked the beginning of a slowly growing trend that would grow even more prominent following the Second World War.

While many films focus on the psychological effects war has on the soldiers who fight it, far fewer focus on the trauma it leaves on civilians, and fewer still on how that pain lingers and is passed on by its survivors. Indeed the only really notable one that does it is the multimedia project The Wall. The Wall is a much broader film in scope and subject matter than any previous examples, as its central focus is on the disease that plagues society as shown through the life of one man, and how no one thing is the singular cause, and instead each individual cause is a single brick in the wall that forms the problem. That said, one of the largest and most commonly emphasized bricks is a seething resentment directed towards the lingering pain left on Britain and its population in the aftermath of World War II. There are two primary places this manifests, first in the opening song, When the Tigers Broke Free, as well as its second part later on, and secondly in the sequence of Goodbye, Blue Sky, and both of them are completely different in their targets and emotions expressed. To explain this properly, some backstory is needed. Roger Waters’ father was a conscientious objector in the early parts of World War II, a pacifist who drove an ambulance during the Blitz. However, in September of 1943, motivated by a growing fear of German expansionism, he would enlist in the Royal Fusiliers as a second lieutenant, and be deployed to Italy as part of the Anzio offensive. Within six months, he would be dead. When the Tigers Broke Free recounts the latter half of this story, and is built on seething rage at a system whose callousness with human life forced Waters as well as countless other children to grow up never knowing their fathers, and is further reinforced by the corollary songs The Thin Ice and Mother, which focus on the way that loss caused his mother to become smothering and overprotective in response. The message, then, is that the destruction brought about by the war and the lingering damage caused by the reaction to the pain of that loss are inextricably linked. The war may be over, but the pain will not go away, and the same system is to blame for all of it. Goodbye, Blue Sky on the other hand tackles a completely different aspect of the war from a very different perspective, but with very much the same message. Two key aspects really stand out, first the depiction of the German Eagle arising from a dove, signaling the end of peace and looming over Britain like a great predator, sending the frightened population scurrying for shelter and tearing great bloody chunks out of the land itself. This is a very clear metaphor for the Blitz, leaving damage in the hearts and minds of the British people as much as it did on the land and the bodies of the dead. The other key moment is the running motif of the white crosses, an infamous symbol for the graves of men killed in the World Wars. This pays off in a gut-wrenching way as the Union Jack shatters into a white cross, that begins to run with blood, soaking it and draining slowly into the gutter. Aesthetic symmetry is used throughout The Wall to draw parallels and connections between the various subjects, and this moment is the best of them all. What this says is fairly straightforward: English nationalism at the end of the day is just blood in the gutter, a destructive force that led to the destruction of countless lives, thrown away meaninglessly. It’s important to mention another use of the crosses here, where the bodies of soldiers stand in formation and dissolve into that same cross, which when combined with the other symbolism is also very clear. These men didn’t die for their country, or anything half so noble. They just died, and whatever post-hoc justifications are offered, the dead won’t hear them. Animator Gerald Scarfe made something truly incredible with this material, beautifully capturing the feeling of a nation traumatized by war, where it seems the good days of blue skies and sun will never come again.

Two examples, two fascinating looks into the psychology of war from two completely different angles. Nowadays it’s common for war films of all stripes, regardless of their ideology, to at least pay lip service to the psychological damage war inflicts on people. Even otherwise pro-war films like American Sniper will at least touch on this if not make it an outright focus. For as justified as they portray war to be, there is no ignoring the pain it leaves on all who experience it.

One final place to examine this form of generational trauma lies on the other side of the Iron Curtain. If Britain was traumatized by World War II, the Soviet Union was utterly devastated by it. Tens of millions lost their lives in the war, soldier and civilian alike. A whole generation was butchered by it, and the lingering pain of it would not only be carried with the survivors for the rest of their lives, but be passed on to the younger generations as well. This is displayed perfectly in their films, and the way their culture remembers the Great Patriotic War. Some of the most powerful and moving anti-war films like The Cranes are Flying and Ivan’s Childhood exemplify exactly what the war was in the minds of the Soviet people: devastating, inglorious, and a lingering source of terrible pain that continued to wreak havoc in the minds of the people even decades after it had ended. None of these films ever went halfway with it, never did they pull their punches for the sake of sparing the audience, and so in them you will find some of the most brutal and scathing critiques of war in existence. However, even more than anything mentioned thus far, there is one more film left to discuss. It is the cardinal anti-war film, the film that most perfectly captures the horror of war, the pain it leaves in all, and the cruelty and futility of its mode of existence. Never before or since was such a horrifying anti-war film made, and there is much to talk about regarding all the ways it embodies the paramount form of everything discussed so far.

Part Four: Zenith

“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and See. And I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat upon him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with the beasts of the earth.” -Revelation 6:7-8

No war film has ever captured its horror to the anything approaching the extent of Elem Klimov’s masterpiece film, Come and See. Klimov, previously known solely for directing comedies, took a unique approach to the war film when crafting Come and See, where the moment to moment craft of it is far more similar to horror than it is to your typical war story. The direction is very stark, the framing can be uncomfortably centered on a character’s face as the editing drags a single shot for a discomforting length of time, similar to the iconic stylistic trappings of Stanley Kubrick. The pace is very slow, and the editing is very deliberate. It cuts when it needs to, and not a moment sooner. The sound design is extremely focused, forgoing traditional score in favor of a grim and foreboding ambient soundtrack, and very carefully and deliberately choosing sound effects to keep the audience focused in the protagonist’s perspective at all times. The lighting and cinematography choices are also used expertly to build up this atmosphere, as Klimov elects to shoot exclusively with natural lighting, so colors are very washed out, blacks are deeper and starker than usual, and the grim isolated feeling of the Byelorussian countryside is used to its fullest effect. This goes for the camera work as well, with an excellent use of handheld shots in many of the tensest scenes creating the feeling of the characters being watched by something or someone just out of their sight. This all combines for a tense and uncomfortable feeling throughout the film, and that’s all without even mentioning the story.

The story in Come and See starts out very slow, and as it goes on it touches on each of the aspects mentioned thus far. The first half hour of it is innocuous, as protagonist Flyora seeks to join the war effort, motivated by the romanticized vision of the partisan. When he finds a rifle and the partisans come to pick him up, he’s all smiles and excitement. However, this comes with the first sign of the trouble to come, as when digging up the rifle Flyora is seen by a German Fw-38 reconnaissance aircraft. This airplane shows up several times throughout the film, and it’s always a harbinger of disaster to come. Sometimes immediately, sometimes later, but always something comes of it. For now it takes long enough to see the consequences that the entire first act of the film goes by. Flyora gets left behind by the partisans, all except for a girl named Glasha. Glasha is an interesting figure in the film, acting as a very solid foil tom Flyora. Where Flyora is idealistic and naive this early in the film, Glasha is very clearly experienced and wearied, with her very introduction being a lesson she teaches him in not trusting others, because anyone could be a liar. The two nonetheless strike up a rapport, until the 48 makes its second appearance, and shortly after they and the partisan camp are shelled by German artillery. Needing a place to hide, Flyora brings them both back to his village, and it’s here that the film truly gets its first taste of darkness. 45 minutes in, they arrive at the suspiciously empty village, and for a few minutes Flyora acts like nothing is too far amiss, until he notices his younger sisters’ dolls left unattended on the floor, surrounded by flies. He recognizes something is wrong, thinks he knows where everyone will be hiding, and takes Glasha and runs off. The scene up to this point has been building and building in tension, and finally it pays off as they’re running and Glasha turns around for a brief moment to see the entire population of the village, lying dead in a pile behind Flyora’s house in a manner similar to the photos of stacked victims in concentration camps. This shot lasts only a moment, but plenty long enough to get the message. From here on, the movie becomes a brutal slog, with moments of relative calm in between intense and grueling scenes, one after another. The horror and brutality of war is on full display, in all the mud, blood, and filth that implies. This has nothing on the film’s climax however, an extended sequence based on the Khatyn massacre of 1943, wherein the SS Dirlewanger Brigade rounded up the residents of the village of Khatyn, locked them in a shed, and set it on fire, gunning down anyone who attempted to escape as the others burned to death in a horrific conflagration. Approximately 150 people were killed, and only 5 survived. Come and See takes inspiration from this and uses it to construct a truly disturbing sequence with some of the most hauntjng imagery ever put to film, in particular the shot in the aftermath of a teenage girl with a thousand yard stare, her face covered in bruises and her thighs soaking in blood. It’s so harsh and so well-made that a short summary would lose out on all the substance of it. The message is clear: war is brutal, war is horrifying, and you cannot look away from the truth, you must sit and watch it. This is the double meaning of the long uncut shots, they force you to look and absorb a single image for seconds on end, preventing you from finding relative safety in the cuts and continual processing of new rapid fire information that many other films would try and get away with. Every atrocity shown aside from the first one lingers, it holds you there and forces you to watch and ponder all of it. It is the ultimate depiction of the horror of war for this reason.

Flyora’s character is interesting in how it actively goes against the myth of heroism so often seen in war films. Though he dreams of the romanticized life of the partisan at the start of the film, he steadily gets it beaten out of him in a perversion of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey structure. Rather than being pushed to grow from his experiences, he is instead only beaten down, traumatized, and run through the wringer time and time again. Massive credit must be given to Aleksei Kravchenko, this was his first time acting and he went through a brutal slog himself out of dedication for the role, so much so that Klimov hired a therapist and even a hypnotist to help him get through shooting without the risk of having a full on breakdown. The Soviets never did anything halfway when it came to filmmaking, and a lot of the most endurance straining scenes were shot as practically as it gets. The slog with Flyora and Glasha in the marsh was shot in a real peat bog, and Klimov was right there in the mud with them. The scene where Flyora and a cow are ambushed by a machine gun position is one of the most mad decisions ever put in a film, as no props they used looked quite right, they made the decision to use live tracer rounds fired from a real machine gun to get the effect, and it left a stunt with no room for error. On and on the film goes, breaking him down further and further, until at the nadir of his descent, we reach the poignant ending of the film.

Following the massacre at the village and some gut wrenching moments in the aftermath, Flyora finds a photo of Hitler laying in a puddle, and begins shooting it. Every time he fires, the shot is overlayed with photos from Hitler’s life going backwards chronologically. When he reaches the final moment, a photo of Hitler and his mother when he was an infant overlays the screen, and Flyora finally stops shooting. It’s worthwhile taking a brief detour to explain this. The film’s original working title was “Kill Hitler”, but as it was released for the anniversary of the war ending it was deemed inappropriate for the film to have “Hitler” in the title. Not obviously this title is not meant literally, the metaphor of it is to overcome that wrathful and cruel part in all of us. Even after all the brutality Flyora has been subjected to, as traumatized as he is and as much as the war has broken him, he stil doesn’t have it in him to pull the trigger again. It’s a brilliant and haunting moment that caps off the film in a truly unforgettable way. The final bookend of the film is a text card, saying how 628 Byelorussian villages were burned to the ground by the Nazis over the course of the war, along with all their inhabitants. Though the film itself is fictional, it wants you to remember that the horror it captures is very, very real.

Part Five: In the End

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” -Plato

Come and See is everything the anti-war film should strive to be. It makes no excuses, accepts no caveats, and holds nothing back in its absolute condemnation of war and everything that stands for it. Nobody is a hero, nobody finds any glory, everyone is only progressively damaged time and time again, as the brutality and cruelty of the worst of humanity is put on full display. War is cruelty, and it cannot be refined. It must not be sanitized, or glorified, or romanticized, doing so only serves to prolong it and indoctrinate new generations into the mistakes of the past. Through all of these examples, the mistakes, the steps made, the themes explored, all have to one degree or another approached this theme, but most have fallen short. One wonders if another film like Come and See will ever be made again. After all, a unique advantage that Soviet filmmakers had was that they didn’t need to worry about marketability or the likelihood of achieving a return on investment, and so were free to make films that were challenging, even harrowing to watch. While the occasional film is still made in Hollywood that aims to do something similar, the industry at large has been moving away from that direction in more recent decades. These kinds of films don’t sell, not in the way studios want their films to sell, and so it’s very rare to see one made, as they’re passed over in favor of safer crowd-pleasing fare. What this suggests about the future of war films is not good, especially as the trend of lionizing the military only seems to be growing, for a variety of industry reasons. There is much to worry about going forward, but looking back at the history of film’s coverage of the topic, there remains much room to grow and explore the more difficult topics, and in that regard it’s a field of opportunity for aspiring filmmakers. So in that, perhaps, there is still hope.


Author: WhenSomethingCriesAgain

Several years ago, I found myself positively brimming with opinions and insight, with no way to express them, so I began writing, and found that I liked it. I decided to start a page to keep records of my writing, and hopefully convince a few people to agree with my ideas.

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