By Afra Nariman
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Stars: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman
It’s World War 1 and two British soldiers, Cpl. Blake and Cpl. Schofield, are given orders to cross into enemy territory and deliver a message that could save upwards of 1,600 of their fellow soldiers, including Blake’s older brother. They must deliver the message within a day’s time.
Scenes, even whole films have been shot in seemingly continuous takes before; but in that regard, 1917 is still extraordinary and memorable for doing so. What’s significant about the cinematography of 1917 is that the film is continuously moving. A few scenes stick out as especially jaw-dropping, such as when Cpl. Schofield is running through the ruined French town, when he jumps into the river and is swept down a waterfall and arguably the most powerful scene of the film, towards the end, where we see him running through explosions and soldiers in route to get his message to the commanding officer and ultimately complete his mission of saving the lives of the soldiers. There is one prolonged moment of breakage in the seemingly continuous shot that the film is presented in; a black screen that lingers for several seconds that signifies that Schofield is knocked out for a semi-significant amount of time.
Although the story is rather simple, especially for a war film, which often times can feel like epics; the film’s combination of award winning cinematography and incredible soundtrack to conduct the actions make 1917 a powerful story. Like Dunkirk, from a few years ago, the events that transpire on the screen take place over the course of a short amount of time. 1917 takes place over about 24 hours. The continuous camerawork give the film a certain level of intimacy that is often missing in war films. And the accompanying music adds to the rise and fall of intensity during the film’s peak moments, making the film emotionally substantial. The film flows at an effortless pace.
One scene that was particularly notable for me was when Cpl. Schofield hid in a room while making his way through the war-zoned French town. In the room, he meets a woman and a very young infant girl. This comes after he had just been through hell. He lost his friend and fellow soldier, he was in a gunfight and had barely made it to the room alive. Being surrounded with death and close to death himself, seeing a baby is a breath of fresh air; an emblem of life and a light in a world that is full of darkness for him at the moment.
1917 is full of commanding music and visuals that come together to take a simple story and stretch it for all the emotional density that it has. Being that it is a one-day story and is shot in a seemingly continuous take, the film feels real and immerses us into Cpl. Schofield’s journey of determination in the face of the inherent hopelessness of war times. Our emotions are completely controlled by Mendes and his production team. In the end of the film, after accomplishing his perilous journey and tracking down Blake’s older brother to inform him of his little brother’s tragic passing, Schofield walks over to a lone tree, sits and finally rests; as do we.