Review 1: An Overly Sarcastic Review of 1917
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Let me start off by saying 1917 is rated R. However, before you cast judgment, I watched 1917 through VidAngel, which basically filtered out all the no good language. So if you have any sort of morals, like me, you can still watch things like 1917 without having to rip your ears off after the 14th f-word. It was honestly very surprising to me just how many curse words there were for the lack of dialogue throughout the entirety of the movie. I mean, most of the movie was just heavy breathing and a couple cuss words here and there. Well, enough about cursing, let’s talk about why we’re here. We’re here because 1917 is, hands down, the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s a big statement, I know, but it’s true. Now, onto my overly sarcastic review of 1917.
I’d consider myself a “movie connoisseur”. I love movies. I’m actually collecting movies at the moment. Everytime we go to any sort of thrift store, I’m heading straight for the movies. Honestly thrift stores are the way to go when buying movies. A, because they’re cheap and B, because they’re guaranteed to be old. Movies anywhere from the 2000’s to 2010. You know, when the good stuff was made. Like High School Musical 3. Snagged that at Saver’s a couple months back. Best purchase of my life, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, WHY WE’RE HERE is to talk about 1917 and how ah-maze-ing it is.
1917 is set in World War 1. In the year, 1917. What a year. Honestly, it just rolls off the tongue. Seriously, say “1917” out loud, I dare you. See? Beautiful. This movie is about two British soldiers having to deliver a message across enemy territory to stop an attack. But if they don’t get the message to the right people in time, basically everyone will die. “There will be a massacre” to quote the British guy in the trailer, that I may or may not have watched 11 times….
Oh and by the way, I just quoted that directing from memory because I’ve watched every single interview with the cast and director. Every single behind the scenes and making of the movies, multiple times through. Mainly because I never thought I’d actually be able to watch the movie because of all the language, so I figured I’d just learn everything there is to know about the movie, so it seemed as IF I’d seen it. But then VidAngel came along. God Bless America.
I’m going to be giving you a couple reasons why this movie is incredible and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feast your eyes on this masterpiece at some point in your life. Or if you know me personally, I will gladly quote the entire movie to you, minus the language.
Let’s talk about the cinematography of this movie. For starters, this movie is a “one shot movie”, which basically means it looks as if there are no cuts. That you’re there with these men from the beginning of the journey to the end. You’re on this mission with them. The camera is simply following these soldiers through the story. It never leaves their side or drifts too far away. I mean, it’s revolutionary. Obviously, this movie is not a play, so there are sneaky cuts and edits here and there. But for the most part, if you’re not paying attention or looking out for the cuts, and you’re just watching the movie, it looks as if it’s one continuous shot.
And can I just point out the prep work for this movie. They started this project in 2018, had rehearsals for 6 months, and then actually filmed the movie from April to June in 2019. And then, at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, the movie was released to the public.
At the beginning of the 6 month rehearsal process, they were rehearsing on open fields. This being so they could measure the length of the scene and the dialogue in the scene before building any sets. Whether it be a trench or city, they had to time the scene and the dialogue, so nothing felt rushed or too long. For example, there’s a scene where the characters come up on an orchard. While in the orchard, the characters exchange dialogue.
In this case, the length of the set, the orchard, had to cater to the characters, what they are saying and how slow or fast they are moving through. The prep work for that was timing out the scene and adding or taking away dialogue so it would seem natural and not rushed.
The director, Sam Mendes, illustrates it this way (better than I ever could, because he’s British)…
“We couldn’t do anything until we had rehearsed, because we had to measure the distance that every scene took. We had to measure the journey. So we couldn’t build a trench until we’d walked the distance that the trench needed to be, and then apply the same rule to the no man’s land and the quarries, and the fields and orchards and farm houses and canals and towns at night. All of them could not be built or even conceived until we knew how long they should be. And we didn’t know how long they should be until we’d acted it. So we started the process by rehearsing in empty fields, holding scripts, and marking out the journey with flags and poles.”
I really hope you read that with a British accent. Seriously, obsessed. I am now going to tell you about my favorite scene in the whole entire movie…The “Écoust-Saint-Mein” town scene.
(pronounced “a-ckoo-st”…did that actually help…?)
Anyway. This. Is. My. Favorite. Scene. And here’s why. The majority of 1917 is filmed in the daytime, but leading up to this scene, the main character, Lieutenant Schofield (what a name) is knocked unconscious and the screen fades to black. When the image returns, time has passed and the scene has now shifted from day to night.
When asked, why the time change in the movie, the director, Sam Mendes said this,
“Well, it was to do with time actually. It was to do with the fact that I wanted the movie to go from afternoon to dusk, and then from night into dawn. I wanted it to be in two movements. I wanted to take a movie, the movie tonally somewhere very unexpected. And I thought it was impossible if I stayed in the same naturalistic world that the first two thirds of the movie occupies. I wanted to take it somewhere more like a hallucination. Somewhere more surreal, almost dream-like. And horrifying too.”
Now, how they lit this scene is honestly my favorite part of the whole entire movie. Have I mentioned this is my favorite movie?
When Schofield wakes up, time has passed and it’s dark in this town, and the only thing that’s lighting this scene are flares. Yes, flares. Well, not actually flares, but something close.
They used lights attached to a bungee cord situation to create these flare-like movements to cast shadows on the buildings. The flares would then be launched into the air in an arch motion to simulate a flare being shot into the sky. They even timed how long a flare stays in the air, so when the scene was shot, it was as realistic as possible. And it’s beautiful to watch. This whole movie is beautiful, but this scene in particular. But, it’s just as horrifying as it is breathtaking.
This movie takes place in the first World War. It was bloody, violent, and towards the end of the war, around the year 1917, modern warfare was advancing. Tanks became all the rage. People really didn’t think WW1 would go on for as long as it did. 5 years to be exact. And after a couple years of war, most soldiers had the mindset that they would never return home. What I love about this movie, is that it depicts that to a T. Even the first 15 minutes of the movie shows the different moods from the front line trenches compared to the back line trenches. During Schofield’s journey, you see the weight of what he’s carrying. The lives of thousands of soldiers are resting on his back and you can tell. But he keeps going, because that’s all there is to do. To keep moving forward. And once he finally gets to where he needs to be, you see the mood and tone change again. If you’ve seen the trailer, the last scene you see is him running parallel to the trench as explosions are happening all around him.
And just before that scene in the movie, he’s asking, rather, demanding (more power to ya) that he sees the general immediately. Every single soldier he encounters responds in a different way. Whether it be someone that’s helpful or someone that is literally having a mental breakdown, they are, as accurately as you can, depicting just how jarring the physical war was, as well as the mental war. Dean-Charles Chapman, who played Lieutenant Blake in the movie, had this to say about filming 1917,
“Obviously, we were making a film, but in those scenes, I forgot we were making a film. The longest take we did was nine minutes and, as an actor, you really do just get lost in it.”
Next, I want to talk about the mechanics of the movie. The storyline. Don’t even get me started. The plot line is simple, these two soldiers are to deliver this message to stop an attack. It’s about their journey from point A to point B. And what’s awesome is they clearly set up the storyline right off the bat. No beating around the bush here.
The opening lines are “Lieutenant Blake. Pick a man and grab your kit.” So clearly, they’ll be going somewhere, we, them included, just don’t know where exactly.
After being told they need to stop this attack from happening. It’s revealed that Lieutenant Blake has a brother in the battalion that will be attacking the German army the next day.
So Blake’s brother and 1,600 other soldiers’ lives are resting on their shoulders. Sounds reasonable enough. No pressure guys.
Blake, being amazing, doesn’t hesitate. He is ready to go right when the captain dismisses him. Schofield, on the other hand, wants Blake to think about what he’s about to do.
This right here, tells you all you need to know about these two characters. Blake, “flying by the seat of his pants” type of guy. And Schofield, being a “thinker” type of guy. And as the story progresses, more is revealed about their personality, right when you need to know it.
Another plotline that was perfectly executed was the orchard scene.
It’s revealed that Blake will do anything to protect his family. I.E. ready to drop everything to go on an unknown journey to save a couple thousand lives, no big deal. This idea is introduced to us and then brought back up again. Blake is really just a family man…
Upon arriving at the orchard that I mentioned before, there are cherry blossom trees in this orchard. Blake makes the comment of knowing this type of cherry blossom tree because his mom had an orchard back home. He explains to Schofield that around this time of year back home, that it would look like it was snowing because the cherry blossom tree leaves would be falling. Then later in the movie, this plotline is brought up again. After arriving in Écoust, Schofield is on the home stretch. But having just been knocked unconscious, he most definitely has a concussion. He’s stumbling around, disoriented, while flares are being shot into the dark night sky. As he’s moving through the city, he stumbles upon a burning church in the middle to the town. And let me tell you, can you feel the heat coming off the screen from that fire. Very realistic and dramatic. Classic German’s. The camera is placed behind Schofield as he’s looking at the burning church. Out of the right hand corner you see a silhouette of a person coming into view. You then see this person raise his gun and shoot at Schofield. Schofield reacts in a normal human way and he runs. But he never shoots his gun.
And I think he did this so he wouldn’t draw attention to himself. I mean, he is only one concussed man, in an unknown city, full of who knows how many German soldiers. Makes sense to me. Schofield then finds a broken window and slips inside. He goes in to clear the room and finds a french woman standing in the room. The camera then reveals to us that this room is her house and she’s hiding out from the Germans. Schofield asks the french woman if this is, in fact, the town Écoust to which she replies yes. He then asks how to find the German front line by asking where the woods are located. The french woman replies that the river will take him to the trees. Schofield leaves and is chased and shot at by a couple German soldiers and then he jumps into the rapid river. The river takes him to, you guessed it, the woods. Just like the french woman had said. The rapid river dies down and you see Schofield floating on his back as cherry blossom leaves are falling all around him. This is a nod to the orchard scene, which was previously mentioned. The cherry blossom trees are an indication to Schofield that he is on the right track and he’s almost to the front line. An indication that he can soon rest. This movie didn’t leave any stones unturned. If a new subplot was brought up or mentioned, they followed through, so at the end of the movie all your questions were answered and everything in the world makes sense again. And let me go on record here and say, all the dialogue was purposeful. Granted, the no good language is most of the dialogue, but other than that…
As I conclude, I just want to express my feelings towards this movie. Wait….
I left watching the movie with NO QUESTIONS. I repeat, NO QUESTIONS. I was completely and totally satisfied. They even answered all the questions that I didn’t even have. That’s how amazing this movie is. You feel what the characters are feeling, and that’s what makes it beautiful. You forget the camera is even there. The “one-shot” style of this movie makes it an immersive experience, making it feel like you’re in the trenches with these two men.
Well, now I just sound crazy. Hands down, my. Favorite. Movie. If it wasn’t already clear. If you ever get a chance to watch this movie, do it. Watch it through VidAngel to get rid of any language or no good scenes. Or just watch it on mute. It doesn’t really matter to me.