Sam Mendes’ 1917 was released to RedBox, DVD, and BluRay yesterday. Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and I didn’t have anything better to do (*cough* create content n’ shit), I decided to rent and watch the movie a second time. For those that haven’t seen it, ‘1917‘ is the only World War I movie in recent memory. Hollywood’s World War II obsession needed to take a hike for once. This war epic is a much-appreciated breath of fresh air.
The movie follows the journey of two British soldiers who are tasked with sending a message to another front. Said front is walking into a trap and 1,600 British lives hang in the balance. The two soldiers, Blake and Schofield, must brave through No Man’s Land, the horrors of war, and the German military to complete their assignment.
When 1917 lost to Parasite at the Oscars, a lot of jaws dropped. Including my own. I was so sure that 1917 was going to take home the gold, I really was. However, upon further viewing I realized the Academy got the Best Picture right this time around.
1917‘s main strength is whatever lies on the visual level. This is not a popcorn movie with bright explosions and kinetic fighting scenes. This is a film about two soldiers surviving the grim reality of warfare and how our Planet decays in these trying times. Very often we see imagery of dead horses, cows, and even dogs. When we catch a glimpse of cherry blossom trees, the camera pans ominously to show us they’ve been cruelly cut down. Even beautiful manmade structures like churches are shown no mercy.
Simply put, 1917 succeeds on the visual level and with its production design. Nothing else comes close. The story, however, itself leaves a bit to be desired. The story, I think, is where it falls short and was the reason it lost to Parasite. Let me explain.
The characters, Blake and Schofield, feel like two drones in the British army. Since the events in the movie are constantly unfolding, we’re not given a second to really get to know them. It was akin to walking into a conversation that was halfway done, and you’ve no idea what it’s about. Granted, perhaps this was by design. Maybe the point was to show how we lose our individuality and humanity in times of war. Okay, that’s respectable.
But what about its characterization? I felt it was flat. The movie was too eager to paint German soldiers as evil monsters with no redeeming qualities. And we were supposed to believe the British guys were…angels? The characterization was too simplistic and quite lazy. In times of war, our morality lies in grey areas. They could’ve done a scene where Blake and Schofield had to interact with a decent German person and see the humanity he has to offer.
In Parasite, we see rich and poor folks with complex personalities and motivations. We could neither root for or despise anybody. The characters were multi-layered and that is what usually seals the quality of a film’s story. This is where Parasite succeeded and 1917 did not.
1917 was great for the experience. Parasite was great for the cinematic story.