War Horse

War Horse is a great big sad, but heart warming story, it is Saving Private Ryan with a horse. It is primarily about friendship and humanity, but also I always felt that the story, especially in the book, was a way to work through a heap of things that happened in the First World War, making them less distant and incomprehensible than a history class, and introducing the idea that indeed, as the saddest parts of the film show, the War takes everything from everyone, it is an important book. I believe equally that film, as a visual medium has a role to play in depicting these parts of our history, lest we forget and so we learn, but within that there is a responsibility with the maker of a film to not belittle that memory. The crux is that the horse is ultimately not of any nationality, as an occupier of this liminal space between German, Italian and the folk of Devon it is shown both kindness and cruelty in equal measures by all those it meets on its journey through the war. So what is problematic here is what we trust young people to understand. I have not read the book in a while so I cannot comment with absolute authority on how it is translated to screen, but in what I guess comes out of the requirement for the film to be rated appropriately a number of strange things have happened. No one in the War bleeds, the only time we see a credible wound is on the horse itself, and even it escapes running through barbed wire without a drop spilled. An awful lot of people die, but the film is incredibly coy about it all. Beyond this, everyone speaks English, and those people who are not supposed to be English have accents that range from pretty incomprehensible to downright ridiculous. So why, I ask, can we trust (what I would contend is the target) audience of this film to understand the concepts it is comprised of. For instance they are asked to understand that the look on a soldiers face is the look of a man who knows he is going to die, yet who charges on anyway, or that the bravery required in war was not solely possessed by the victors, yet for some reason we cannot trust them to understand that wounds come with blood or to have the attention span to manage subtitles? It is important that we do not let the job of showing what War looks like fall to documentary alone, because documentary will not usually contain the sense of humanism that War Horse has, it would just be nice to be able to say “that is as close as we could make it with the technology we have” rather than “that is as much as we thought you could manage”, because if “as close as we could make it” will still only give us a sense of the sacrifice of the people who were there made, “as much as we thought you could manage” is never going to come even close.

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