Not sure why but I've always liked world war movies – maybe I discovered this interest in days when I used to read a lot about holocaust. No, there is no animal inside me. But there was a time when reading about Hitler interested me and slowly I delved into reading about holocausts and gas chambers and concentration camps and all that.
What I learnt was that if ever there was a limit to human cruelty, it didn't exist. What I also learnt was that amidst all the darkness, one can always find a few who bear the torch of good.
While Hitler is a character which always interested me, I slowly moved on to watching movies of his time – the world war movies. Once I almost exhausted movies in English, I moved on to German, French, Polish, Algerian and other languages. I am still not done with.
While there are a few names like “Enemy at the gates”, “Schindler’s List” which even I had heard off way before I picked up this hobby, I have watched a few not so famous ones as well. Here is a brief list of my favorites.
Empire of the Sun – I was nearly an hour into the movie when urge to find out a few more things about the movie couldn't be suppressed any further. Wiki told me that it was a Spielberg movie which wasn't really a surprise to me. Only he can make children act and make it look so real. I was more interested in finding out the name of the kid who acted as Jim, the protagonist – his acting just didn't look like acting. It looked so real. If I was moved by his acting, I was surprised to find out his name – Christian Bale.
You will find many war movies which will be full of guns, bullets, blasts, bombs, tanks, aircraft and all that one can think of war. You will find very few movies about the stakeholders who are least talked about but are nearly most impacted – people caught in the war.
Based on JG Ballard’s novel with the same name, Empire of the Sun is tale of a kid who gets caught in the war. From his life of affluence, he falls flat in to the dark and cruel world of war camp. Jim, the kid played by Bale, gets separated from his family at the start of Second World War and only manages to meet them once the war gets over. The period between these two events are all about Jim’s survival instincts to make him last one more day in the camp, the innocence of his childhood which refuses to die down, the cruelty around him and his eyes full of dreams which have nothing but fighter planes.
Empire of the Sun is a must not miss movie for everything one can like about a movie. Watch it for Spielberg’s direction, Bale’s acting, the pace of the movie and the emotional ride it provides. Watch it for the sake of cinema which thrives on the habit of venturing out to a new world.
Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima - Every coin has two sides. That’s what Clint Eastwood tells us through these two movies. Flags of Our Fathers is the American version of battle of Iwo Jima – fought between US army and Japan at the far end of Second World War. The movie shows how valiantly US army fought the battle which required sacrifices of gigantic magnitudes, how fierce Japanese soldiers were who looked always ready to die in the name of nation and how atrocious was Imperial army in committing the war crimes.
The movies is in English. It shows American side of the coin and even though director has made all the attempts, does look a bit bias. It does leave you wanting to hate Japanese.
If you are done watching Flags of Our Fathers, please move on to Letters from Iwo Jima – the Japanese side of the same coin. By the time movies ends, your emotions after watching Flags of Our Fathers are completely reversed. The movie shows that the same Japanese soldier who looked a fearsome killer in the first movie was equally scared of death, was equally reluctant to leave his family to move to war front and was equally human. Oh yes, human is the word.
One incident stands out to showcase the purpose of the movie – to show two opposite sides of the same coin.
There is a scene in Flags of Our Fathers where a US soldier goes missing and his badly mutilated body is found couple of days later – the soldier’s body is nearly unrecognizable. “How cruel the soldiers of imperial army must have been” is what you think after seeing this. Cold blooded torture is what you assume.
The same scene shows a different colors in Letters from Iwo Jima. The Japanese are shown to be totally scared and frustrated of the battle and as soon as they get hold of US soldier, they kill him out of frustration – no cold blooded torture. While they are killing him, they themselves are scared to every possible extent.
Like the end of the movie, this scene also leave you confused – which side to choose. Or maybe, that’s what the purpose of movie is- to leave you confused and let you choose the side. The message movie gives is – you don’t choose sides in a war, it is always the war against everyone else.
My Boy Jack – I had heard Rudyard Kipling’s name and knew that he was one of the prefixes in English literature in last century. But that’s about it. The reason I got interested in this movie was Daniel Radcliffe. While I had seen Rupert Grint in Wild Target, I had seen Tom Felton in Rise of Planet of Apes, I was yet to see Daniel in a non-Harry Potter movie.
As it turned out, My Boy Jack is a simple yet highly emotional movie about Rudyard Kipling and his son who went missing/believed to have died in First World War. The movie is adaptation of a play with the same name which itself was inspired by Kipling’s poem with the same name – My Boy Jack. The poem portrays the pain of a father who lost his son in the war. The movie shows build up for this – how a myopic Radcliff is so desperate to join armed forces to serve the nation in the need of its hour, how it is a matter of pride for Kipling for his son to join armed forces, how women in the house keep a strong face in front of wishes of the men in the house but keep praying secretly that their wishes never come true. It shows the pain Kipling and his family goes through once news of their son goes missing breaks out, how a desperate mother refuses to believe that her son has died and keeps up the candle for her search and what a great writer Kipling must have been to encapsulate so much amount of pain in just few words of the poem – My Boy Jack. Oh yes, do watch it for David Haig’s acting.
There are a few more which are must watch – The Emperor, The Bridge on the River Kwai , A Bridge Too Far, Das Boot .
Watching World War movies is fun – not just the action but plethora of emotions they carry is worth the money. And all of them have one message which I like the most – message carrying hope. And yes, they do carry a lot of history with them. This is something I have always wondered – having fought and won so many wars after independence, it is a shame that India’s kitty of war movies is almost empty. Maybe it’s the love stories which needs to vacate this kitty first.