Once in a blue moon, a film comes along that redefines the form. I suggest that 1917 (2020 – Sam Mendes) is such a film.
I say this not just because of the technical brilliance of the one-shot appearance of the film. I don’t say it because of Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography or the brilliant screenplay by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Nor do I say it because of the standout performances from George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth et al; or Thomas Newman’s phenomenal soundtrack. I say it because all films are team efforts. We must assess this masterpiece as a gestalt: something that is greater than the sum of its multitalented parts.
Flaws? Yes of course. What masterpiece isn’t flawed?
Lance Corporal Schofield cuts his hand on barbed wire early in his journey into hell and eventual redemption with his fellow messenger Lance Corporal Blake. Schofield then accidentally plunges his wounded hand into a rotting corpse as he tries to evade danger. We must think then, surely, that this wound will worsen until it becomes an impediment to the mission – likely threatening Schofield’s life; but the wound vanishes, so the beat is invalidated. Perhaps this is intentional, and part of the scriptural subtext of the film: for later, Schofield is clearly shot, and we must worry, dead, since the screen cuts to black thereupon; but he resurrects and carries on with his journey of deliverance unscathed. His potentially septic hand has healed, and indeed, following his cleansing in a river, Schofield is himself cleansed – the filth of his experiences washed away and the man himself rejuvenated. This symbolism renders the events slightly implausible. I for one was so utterly engaged with the characters and story that I didn’t care; but the point remains. It also seemed to me that the story went on a beat too long when Schofield tells Blake’s brother Joseph Blake (played by Richard Madden) that his brother is dead. Better, perhaps, to have Schofield in the infirmary by now, just moments from death. He might now claw the soaked (it seemed dry, despite Schofield’s dunking in the river) photograph of/from his sweetheart out of his pocket and look with his failing strength toward the sunlight. We would understand that he will make it. But instead, Schofield seems implausibly fit and unscathed – no doubt a product of the Christian messianic symbolism of the story.
These observations serve only to discuss ways in which this wondrous film might be improved. They are not intended to derogate an outstanding cinematic experience. I think all involved deserve all the praise and awards they get. I salute the team behind this one in a million film wholeheartedly, as I do the fallen.
They shall not grow old.