|photo credit via War Horse official Facebook page|
This week, after a tutoring appointment, I stopped at the big library we don't normally go to and meandered through their used book section. On a rolling cart, they had a stack of DVDs. I never find used DVDs that I want to buy, but since I love movies, I scanned through them anyway.
War Horse was on the second side, bottom shelf. For $1.00.
I popped open the case and looked at the back of the DVD. It had a few scratches--probably wouldn't work, I thought. But...or $1.00...I'd never seen it, but I'd heard good things about it.
Who could say no?
It's about a horse--
oh my, schuyler, i never would have guessed.
--who's bought and sold to help a family make the rent on their farm. Leaving a heartbroken boy behind, who's too young to enlist and travel with him, Joey the horse enters the tragic world of WW1 trenches, where he shuttles back and forth between British, German, and French owners. As the war drags on, Joey's miraculous courage and tenacity bring heart to a horrible fight. But miracles are limited, and the war is a long one. Will Joey ever be reunited to the home he was torn away from?
Release Year: 2011
Director: Steven Spielberg
Composer: John Williams
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Well, when I brought the DVD home, I had to find out if it worked. And fair warning: once you start, it's really hard to stop. Here are the things I loved most:
- The Devon scenery is beyond spectacular. (I'm assuming it's Devon? Albert, the boy who loves Joey, refers to being from Devon.) It looks like a painted landscape panorama of rocks and rolling hills for the first few minutes of the movie. Interestingly enough, the War Horse Twitter feed said all the sunsets in the movie were real sunsets--not special effects.
- When Joey's owner, Ted Narracott, faces the consequence of how his drinking affects his family, he asks his wife if her love for him has changed. In her terse, unsentimental way, Rose says, "I might hate you more, but I'll never love you less." One of the good things about this movie is that Rose sees her husband's faults and the war trauma he has never recovered from and still works hard to stick with him. The movie doesn't tie their struggles up in a neat little bow. Instead, it shows how a family can stick together even with deep-seated flaws and parts about each other that they can't understand. A deep and abiding love can run through and hold together imperfect people. I liked that. (Plus, Rose's purple outfit was my fav.)
- What really impressed me throughout the movie was the tough choices the director/screenwriter were willing to make for a war film. Whenever there was a twist in the plot or a dark moment, they rarely gave the easy way out. Joey and Albert save the farm only to have another catastrophe undo all their hard work. A soldier makes it all the way through the trenches only to die at the end. Joey escapes the Germans only to run through barbed wire (more than once). The characters taste victory, but victory is rarely handed to them. You feel the cost of the war.
- In counterbalance to the last point, another thing I loved about War Horse was the moments of heart in the midst of horror. Albert finds camaraderie with a Devon boy who was his former rival. A British soldier and a German one strike up a brief friendship over their compassion for Joey. Joey looks out for another horse, Topthorn, when Topthorn is struggling to pull the heavy guns up the hill. Albert looks into the face of a stricken soldier who's just been ordered to kill any of his comrades who run back from the trenches and tries to bolster him with courage.
- My favorite scene of the entire movie was the moment early on in the film when Albert realizes he's got to teach this spirited horse how to plow one of the worst, rockiest, un-plowable fields, so they can save his mum and dad's farm. The scene that followed was moving with its endurance in the midst of jeers and obstacles and showed the blessing of stubborn tenacity in the face of impending loss. The obstacle is a more innocent one than the life-threatening dangers Joey faces in the war, but it's bright, shining heart has so much warmth and love to it.
In reading a bit on Wikipedia about the book and the screenplay, the movie seems to strike a nice balance the two and their differences. War Horse isn't a film for giggles. It's a heart-wrenching depiction of the great hardship of war that fills you with twin emotions of grief and inspiration. In spite of the sorrow, you walk away with a lifted step--a grander, bigger kind of courage that makes you want to go write about something great. It's a story of tenacity through hardship, compassion for suffering, the grief of separation, and the hope of love. Any story that can capture those big emotions and capture them well is worth the time it takes to watch.
I'll be watching War Horse again. And again. And again.
Have you seen War Horse? What did you like about it?
It's a bit dangerous giving a parent guide after seeing a movie only once. I don't always catch everything the first time. I mute and fast-forward at necessary moments in movies I decide to watch, so before I pop them in, I generally do a quick search on PluggedIn or IMDb Parent Guide (search the movie title and scroll down the page until you get a link for parent advisory in the "Storyline" section.) Then I'm not caught off guard: I at least know what's coming.
Sexual Content: None.
Language: at least 4 different swear words, 6+ instances of language.
Violence: Men are shot or killed with sword thrusts in battle, a horse runs through barbed wire, two men are executed in a firing squad, soldiers face gas in the trenches, horses are abused.
Other: Man struggles with intoxication, brief instances of cigarette smoking.