ANZAC Day has just passed and Universal Pictures is offering a fresh opportunity to consider what it means to lay down your life for your country, with a recent DVD release. The epic WWI film 1917 takes viewers right into the trenches, but also into the hearts of the men who fought there. There, we discover both new and old definitions of heroism crouching side by side.
The movie is set in northern France, where German and British forces are locked in a life-and-death struggle over miles of muddy wasteland. Then news arrives that the Germans are retreating, leaving room for a British offensive. However, aerial reconnaissance reveals the withdrawal is a feint. The Germans hope to lead the Allies into a deadly trap. Orders are issued to call off the attack before a massacre ensues and Lance Corporals William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) must carry the message across miles of blasted countryside, barbed wire and enemy-held territory.
Writer-director Sam Mendes was inspired by the real WWI Operation Alberich, but based 1917’s personal side on stories told to him by his grandfather. Consequently, the film conveys a palpable sense of the brutality and horror of this conflict. So, viewers should be warned this is not for the faint-hearted. Yet, despite its many traumatic scenes, the film has some valuable considerations for competing ideas of heroism.
What emerges are two distinctly different views of valour. Blake expresses the first, that there are principles worth trading your life for. This belief explains why he will risk his safety to save Schofield – one soldier does not abandon another. But Schofield holds a contrary view. He believes that real bravery is found in surviving for the sake of his family. He is in no way a coward, but his motivation is expressed by a photograph he holds close, bearing the simple inscription, ‘Come back to us’.
The real tragedy is the way these ‘braveries’ are pitted against each other. The life of Jesus shows it’s possible for a person to serve an ideal and still serve loved ones. The middle ground is found in realising that holding to our ideals is how we serve them best. Jesus demonstrated that devotion to God was the best thing he could do for those he loved. He did this by living a life of holiness and fulfilling his father’s plan to save us: ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather … he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ (Philippians 2:5–6,8)
In 1917, Schofield displayed his greatest bravery, when he held to his duty over his personal safety and his family’s peace. But in so doing, he served them by modelling a man they could truly be proud of. In our case, we can serve both our values and our loved ones when we realise we love them best by holding to the life to God which calls us.
MARK HADLEY’S TOP 10 FAMILY TV STREAMING MOVIES
- The Incredibles – PG (Disney+)
- Fantastic Mr Fox – PG (Prime Video)
- Wonder – PG (Stan)
- A Series of Unfortunate Events – PG (Netflix)
- Babe – PG (Foxtel)
- My Neighbor Totoro – G (Netflix)
- The Adventures of Tintin – PG (Netflix)
- Matilda – PG (Netflix)
- Bluey – G (Disney+)
- The Iron Giant – PG (Netflix)
DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures
RELEASE DATE: 22 April 2020
This feature story comes from The Lutheran May 2020. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.