By: Ryan Farrell, Staff Writer
A late contender to the 2020 film awards season is Sam Mendes’ “1917”, a period piece that takes place during the tail end of World War I. Released in early January, “1917” uniquely captures the war through cinematography and perspective. The wide variety of locations are incredibly immersive, as are the wide range of memorable characters and the fast-paced camera work.
“1917” is loosely based on a book written by Mendes’ own grandfather, known as “The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes 1897-1991.” It follows two British Lance Corporals during their mission across the French frontier. Lance Corporal Blake is played by Dean-Charles Chapman and Lance Corporal Schofield is played by George MacKay. Their commander instructs them to deliver an urgent message to an army on the outside of the German enemy lines. British military intelligence believes that Germany is beginning to retreat, however ariel scans reveal that they are using a withdrawal strategy in order to deceive their enemies.
German’s weaponry and numbers are far greater than they seem. In order to prevent the massacre of 1,600 soldiers, Blake and Schofield must traverse through uncertain wastelands and deliver the message to the German line before the morning arrives.
A specific attribute that separates “1917” from other historical war films is the cinematic style that the film utilizes. The film seemingly takes place in one cut. While there appear to be a few camera tricks integrated to stitch scenes together, these are few and far between. While there are sometimes wider shots of scenery, for the most part, the camera moves in a human like fashion, immersing the audience in the trenches of WW1. This choice effectively depicts the unpredictability of war. One minute the protagonists are venturing through a quaint military camp, the next they’re trudging through the horrors of No Man’s Land. “1917” prioritizes world building over scenes of action, breathing life into the story and creating a strong connection with the audience.
The main protagonists serve as an effective spectacle, especially since their mission is outside of their line of work. When Schofield starts to regret taking on the mission, Blake admits that he thought the mission would be an easy task such as a supply run. This ignorance illustrates that they are out of their element, they don’t have a soldier’s ego. The film is an exploration of human emotion and an exposition of human endurance rather than a portrayal of an action hero. In addition, the array of memorable side characters further adds to the film’s realistic tone.
Since they’re constantly moving, characters come and go consistently. Despite this, they flesh out the surrounding world and represent different perspectives of the great war.
As mentioned previously, the development of the environment is often times the forefront of “1917”. Since Blake and Schofield are constantly moving to reach their goal, they aren’t in one area for a long time. This not only enhances the film’s sense of urgency, it also consistently adds context to the time period. A strong example of this is when the Lance Corporals are crossing No Man’s Land, a dreary battlefield littered with the dead. Usually these shockingly dark themes are emphasized by the camera, however it strictly follows the two men. This technique reflects their mission, and their perseverance illustrates that such carnage is not anything new to them. Although “1917” definitely uses heavy carnage and violence to portray WWI, it prioritizes realism over shock value.
“1917” is currently showing at Patriot Cinemas (Portland), Cinemagic Clark’s Pond (South Portland), Flagship Cinemas (Falmouth), Cinemagic (Westbrook), Cinemagic and IMAX (Saco).