January 11, 2012

BEATING A DEAD WAR HORSE: The IMDB quotes Steven Spielberg as saying “Spielberg’s War Horse Honors Veteran Dad:”

Steven Spielberg was inspired to make his wartime drama War Horse to ensure veterans’ service “will never be forgotten”.

The director’s latest movie tells the story of a young soldier trying to track down his beloved horse after it was sold to the cavalry in World War I.

Spielberg developed the film to honour his father Arnold, who operated radios on planes in World War II, and to teach younger audiences more about the past.

He tells Britain’s The Sun, “My father is turning 95 this year and is a veteran of World War II… He served in Karachi on the China-Burma-India campaign. He was part of the 490th bomb squadron, the Burma bridge busters. He was a communications sergeant for the entire wing, in charge of communications between ground and air, and flew some sorties… I have been going to reunions and meeting all the veterans he served with.

“I make my movies about war so that their contributions will never be forgotten… We live in an age where there is almost too much communication flying at us from all directions. Nobody seems to look back anymore. That’s why I make so many films about history.”

Shortly before Christmas though, Canadian journalist Rick McGinnis made this observation about the film. Note his conclusion:

We are less than seven years away from the anniversary of the end of World War I, and the last surviving combat veteran of the war died this year. There might be young people unaware of the dire historical facts and the unspeakable human toll of that war, but for almost everyone else, the sheer scale of the losses and nightmarish reality of the trenches, repeated in refrain for almost a century, has dulled us to the staggering truth of it all. Which is probably why Spielberg and the creators of War Horse have seen fit to transfer our sympathy from a mere human caught in that carnage to a horse, enlisting it to re-awake our sense of pathos in the form of that most noble and graceful of animals, into whose big, dark, anxious eyes Spielberg invests so much human emotion. It’s a remarkable feat, to be sure, but some part of me can’t help but be saddened that we’ve had to transfer to an animal what we can no longer comprehend in men.

This isn’t the first time that a Spielberg war movie has been accused of brushing up against nihilism.

UPDATE: Instapundit reader Drew Kelley recommends the current season of Downton Abbey if they’re looking for a WWI-era setting. For those looking for a recap of what happened afterward, Paris: 1919 is one of the few “docudramas” that live up to the name. The 2009 Canadian production brilliantly mixes documentary footage shot in Paris after the war, with actors recreating Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Keynes, et al. It even has a scene where Wilson gives the brush-off to a young Ho Chi Minh, requesting Vietnam’s independence from France, before spotlighting Wilson’s role in setting the stage for WWII.

More thoughts on that film, here.