Two young British privates during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.
“You should meet no resistance,” or at least that’s what General Erinmore (Colin Firth) promised Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay). These two young WWI British soldiers were tasked with the mission to cross into vacated enemy territory and deliver the command that Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) stop his troops from chasing down the Germans. The general’s staff had discovered that this was a trap—that the Germans were “fleeing” so 1,600 British troops would chase them down and stumble into an ambush.
Entering enemy territory is no small feat, vacated or not, but when Blake and Schofield have only a day’s time to deliver the message—and Blake’s brother is one of the 1,600 men—the need to complete this assignment forces a new sort of bravery and leaves them dodging trip wires, hiding from German fighter planes, and giving up the barest of necessities to save innocent lives.
(Needless to say, General Erinmore’s “no resistance” assumption was far from the truth.)
The landscape and scenery choices for this film produce their own rollercoaster of emotions. At first, Blake and Schofield are slipping and sliding in mud that has swallowed dead bodies and become a graveyard for horses and a feasting table for flies and rats, and just when your stomach can’t take much more, the soldiers pass through the trench lines and enter beautiful countryside with meadows full of flowers and green grass. You feel yourself relax, and you’re able to focus solely on the characters’ dialogue and conversation; but just as you’ve settled comfortably back into your seat, fighter pilots show up or a lone German soldier pulls out his knife and fire, bombs, and gunshots resurface the gut-wrenching chaos.
Most people anticipate that Colonel MacKenzie’s role will take a strong lead, if only because he’s played by a big-name actor like Benedict Cumberbatch, or that Blake will be the featured soldier since his brother’s life is on the line. However, Schofield drives the plot of this film, and ratings across the board can’t deny that George MacKay carried the story in an entertaining but powerful way.
Today’s R-rated film industry promised that 1917 would be packed with violence and language, and they most definitely held up their end of this deal with the language. You could chalk the word choices up as nothing more than “soldier slang” if it were only the few sarcastic jokes scattered throughout the film, but a consistent use of the f-word, “bastard,” and “Jesus” is hard to take in, even for adult ears.
Though war films naturally come with violence, the violence isn’t what shook me. Instead, it was the gory aftermath of the battle scenes that threw my stomach for a loop (and broke my heart). Sure, there was a knife fight and countless bombings and gun face-offs, but the dead soldiers caught in barbed wire or the wounded soldiers with missing chunks of flesh made me cringe. So perhaps the gory aftermath and disturbing war scenes are hidden behind a violence description that doesn’t come close to the spewing blood and guts of horror films that we are accustomed to.
There are only a few faith elements sprinkled throughout the film. Before Blake and Schofield leave base camp, a sarcastic, punk-ish sergeant says, “May the Lord pardon you for whatever sins you’ve committed.” Obviously, this comment is meant to shake the soldiers up rather than comfort them. But, one of the most beautiful, somber features of the film is when one of the 1,600 soldiers stands up and sings a hymn, Wayfaring Stranger, before his D-wave of troops chases after the Germans.
Unfortunately, due to heavy language and disturbing aftermath war scenes, this film is Not Dove-approved. However, the selfless sacrifice of Blake and Schofield to save thousands of strangers is not only inspiring, but it serves as a strong reminder that life comes with a much bigger purpose than laying low and hiding behind the safe zone. Sometimes, true living means finding something that you are willing to die for.
The Dove Take:
Despite heavy language and disturbing war scenes, 1917 packs the truth that living only matters if you’ve found something, or someone, worth dying for.