The 20th century had put harmony on the target and practiced shooting arrows of war blindfolded by orthodoxy; else why would the Devil incarnation, in the “Devil’s Advocate”, proudly claim
“Who, in their right mind could possibly deny the 20 th century was entirely mine?”
Thus when the entire mankind realised Art was long and Time was fleeting, did a few of them artistic souls take it on their shoulders to reflect on the audience the meaningless futile dynamism a few maniacs wanted to establish.
This write-up focuses on a few films which were based or were set in the backdrop of few of the major wars which scarred humanity. It presents an account on how different filmmakers were influenced to present a work which not only gave us characters which were meant to be etched in our hearts but also to portray the carnage of war and what it does to the human race and how we must strive to make this world a better place!
The Great Dictator is the foremost film that comes to our mind when we think of a work on Adolf Hitler. The satirical comedy-drama establishes the priorities and difference in sanity between the powerful and the powerless and rings meaning to the phrase “ a dog’s obeyed in office”. This was Chaplin’s first true sound film and it didn’t fail to be stirring. The film was released in 1940 when the US government was still in peace with the Nazi regime and Chaplin was oblivious to the ongoing conditions in the concentration camps. Artists nevertheless aren’t bound by anything to express the truth.
Following the aftermath of the World War II, a certain number of films, directly linked to the events of the war like The Bridge On the River Kwai, set in the trend of creating landmark films with a fictitious yet believable story based on a true situation in history.
Films on World War I are less popular albeit a large number of films being made on the Great War between 1920-‘40. Among those films the one that rose to prominence due to it’s engaging plot and rationalized filming concepts was All Quiet On the Western Front, which established the playwright Orson Welles as one of the leading filmmakers in the country.
In films like Casablanca and The Sound of Music, we see the different stratas of society getting affected by the war. War isn’t the primary backdrop about which the plot revolves, it plays as the anticlimactic twist through which the story finds a resolution. They have their share of the sweet slumber of romance as well as of the hardship and agony.
An Italian film rising to prominence, based on World War II, is the beautifully constructed Roberto Benigni’s ‘La Vita Belle’(Life Is Beautiful). It is a complete package of all essential elements a film requires and is well scripted bringing to life the 40s era of Italy while being shot in the late 90s.
We notice Steven Spielberg making one after another magnanimous films on world war – Schindler’s List(1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and The Bridge of Spies(2015). The crafty director embroiders his craft well with engaging detailed scripts, visually appealing cinematography and apt periodic mise-en-scènes. We notice that in all the three films there is a common thing- man helping man; reconstructing a civilized society. Spielberg’s films not only span diverse characters but also locations(Normandy, Germany, USSR and USA respectively), depicting the world wide impact of the war. No wonder such a large number of films have been made just on the world war and atrocities of Nazi Germany.
Films highlighting the American Civil War are less in number. Lincoln(2013), portrays a brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis fighting slavery, whereas Martin Scorsese adds a bit of nationalistic touch to his noir films specifically in the cult film ‘Gangs of New York’. The Clark Gable- Vivien Leigh classic , “Gone With the Wind” which made it to so many “..all time best charts”, is set on the backdrop of the war and we see how the story progresses tumultuous due to direct consequences of the war.
Stanley Kubrick received immense appreciation of his dark comedy film covering the Vietnam War, Full Metal Jacket(1987) which was said to be of rare imagination and a “technical knockout, stands much effective in conveying the point of war being pointless. Based on the same war, is a Netflix film, First They Killed my Father(2017) which shows how the children of the future is brainwashed into blind faith. These two films are 30 years apart yet when we compare them we see from the eyes of the creator how the world is yet to recover from so many man-made mishaps.
Ben Affleck’s Argo(2012) provides a haunting portrayal of the less discovered Iranian Revolution by filmmakers. It successfully transcreates vivid scenes from the war in Tehran. This film belong to the genre of the unsung heroes of war who were lost in “classified” files. Belonging to this genre are two other films : Morten Tyldum’s ‘The Imitation Game’(2013) and Mel Gibson’s ‘ Hacksaw Ridge’(2017). All these films portray people with principles and brains , who won- more aptly- overcame the war without guns and ammunition.
It is necessary to mention two films which leaves the audience stunned and spellbound. The Boy With Stripped Pajamas, speak to us as to how friendship is beyond the anonymity of war and boundaries. Very much like “First They killed…”, it shows how the pillars of tomorrow are being crushed down without anyone anticipating it.
‘Mudbound’ displays a sense of waltanshauung depicting a tale two of war survivors of the World War- one black and one white- one coping up with racial discrimination and the other surviving PTSD. It’s comprehensive screenplay and unique narrative outlook puts it in the leading front of films made in 2017.
Thus, we see how situations and genocides serve inspirations for so many artists, bringing out the best in them , their vision and creativity. Primary example of this fact is the German Expressionism post the Great War. Films made in that period still serve as template screen structures in today’s world. The city scapes and scene structures of Lang Fritz’s “Metropolis” and Murnau’s “ Nosferatu” have been greatly influential among modern day creators including finding relevance in the Batman films and Blade Runner. These artists were looking for liberalism and recognition.
Films are often a refection of the world at large, the perspective of real through reel. It is a form of media through which the audience grows by and large. We reflect on ourselves as there is no one else to hold accountable for the devastation around and the chaos prolonged. Films makes us more humane and believable, at times even when it’s mere fiction, and make us responsible as we witness the small pain on the screen and are left with the large one in our hearts.