World War I was one of the deadliest conflict in human history. Almost 40 million people died in that war. We generally think of WW I as the war of trench warfare. Soldiers lived in trenches on both sides of the front.
In April of 1917, two young British soldiers, Shofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are sent on an impossible mission: cross into German-held territory in northern France and warn the commander of a British unit of about 1,600 soldiers about a deadly trap they don’t know about. Without any means of communications, the two soldiers are hand-carrying a letter. Blake was picked because his brother is a lieutenant in the endangered unit and the commanding general assumes that will give Blake the necessary motivation.
They only have one day and one night for the mission, since the unit is scheduled to attack in the morning and run into the ambush.
The movie follows the two hapless soldiers on their journey. The entire picture is filmed in one continuous shot, not in individual scenes. This gives the action some urgency and fluency. As they progress through the war-torn wasteland, they come across an endless stream of corpses in trenches, ditches, bunkers, on fields and in streams. The brutality and horror of war comes to life in 1917, and the senselessness of it all is ever present.
Some people just want to fight.
And therefore, many others have to die.
As I watched 1917, I realized that Adolph Hitler was a common German soldier in that war, and the experience of the conflict, and the aftermath and subsequent humiliation of the German people, was one of the driving forces that shaped his world-view and fueled his eventual rise to power – just to repeat the whole atrocity again.
Everyone should watch 1917 for the political and humanitarian message it sends, not just because it’s going to win many awards.