I watched two theatrical-release movies this weekend. Since I average about one every two months, this is quite an anomaly in my life. But it happened that there were two that I was vitally interested in seeing: Vice (the biopic about our former vice president Dick Cheney) and They Shall Not Grow Old (the quasi-documentary using all archival film shot on the Western Front of the First World War).
Each was compelling in its own way. You can look elsewhere for reviews to determine which, if either, you’ll take the trouble to view.
What I found compelling, though, came only through the juxtaposition of seeing them both in a 24-hour span, an experience that leads to different conclusions about the nature and meaning of war than would result from seeing either in isolation.
Every frame in They Shall Not Grow Old is digitally restored from original footage, cleaned up, brightened, regularized for film speed, colorized to convey the way it looked to those soldiers in the trenches—and narrated exclusively by oral history taken in the 70s and 80s from those surviving veterans. The horror of those battles—the sodden trenches, the devastated landscapes, the rotting corpses, the hordes of rats, the ranks of soldiers mowed down like wheat-stalks by the raking machine-gun fire—defies description. As does the utter senselessness of it all. This conduct of this war, like that of all wars, was determined by those in the halls of faraway governments, and in the boardrooms of those businesses who stood to gain the most.
Vice, an inside look at the Cheney-Bush administration, gives a fictionalized interior view of how those governments and corporations work hand in hand to create wars where none are necessary. How with a sharp eye out for a plausible excuse they can set the diplomatic and journalistic cogs in motion to get the war machine in tune and ready to run. Even though the strategic results may not turn out as planned, the unrestricted flow of resulting profit is sufficient victory for those in a position to take it.
One of the veterans of WWI notes how, on returning home to England after sacrificing four years of their lives, they found there were no jobs for them, no honor, no respect. “Veterans need not apply.” One of the unintended consequences of the 2003 Iraq war (still being fought, though less vigorously) gave ISIS the freedom to grow, while no one was looking, from a few insurgents into the menace it is today. But the oil continues to flow.
Each of these films, seen in isolation, makes a powerful statement about a world we seldom see. Taken together, they speak to and with each other, in ways unimagined by their producers. We should listen.
When you go see They Shall Not Grow Old, by all means stay in your seat for the Director’s commentary on the production showing after the credits for the film. It is more than enlightening.
Box Office: Google each film for venues and times in your area
Review by David Hirzel