Movies can’t touch WWII

Promotional poster for Band of Brothers.An elderly man in my church fought for South Africa in WWII in Italy. He has watched some of the highly acclaimed filmic takes on the war, such as Band of Brothers, and the other day made the comment: “Those movies and shows are nothing like how it actually was.” I appreciate him saying that as it’s a helpful reminder to those of us of younger generations that even the most seemingly realistic takes on war never in fact attain to the actuality of it.

Some of the most obvious reasons for this are: there’s no soundtrack to reality, there is absolutely no slow-mo in life, and story arcs are often beyond our recognition, being messy and (seemingly) arbitrary from a personal and/or societal perspective. (I do still believe in a metanarrative, being a Christian, but I don’t think that means individual lives on earth can always be neatly understood by us in the here and now.)

None of this is to say we shouldn’t portray history and past tragedies through art, but it does suggest the importance of educating moviegoers as to the techniques and prerogatives of filmmakers so that they are aware of the artifices being employed and the gap that therefore exists between what they see and reality. Realism is the art form that comes closest to portraying something recognisable; the danger therefore is that the unthinking viewer might be inadvertently duped into thinking “this is the reality”. When critics say things like “how accurate” or “how true to life” a film is, one could wrongly take that to mean the film depicts a (past) reality. Not even documentaries can do that.

What films can do, however, is evoke emotion, stimulate concern or interest, present facts and scenarios, suggest experiences, and many other things I’m sure spring to the mind of any students of film reading this – I am just making the observations of an armchair movie enthusiast. Films and TV shows have value, to be sure, and we all know their impact can be profound, but when I say they can’t touch WWII, I simply mean it’s important to remember that they are always a far cry from the reality of living and fighting in the war.

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For past posts on WWII, we have Brushing up on WWII and WWII, Socrates, Rwanda & personal boundaries

Another post in my History category is Lindisfarne – A Holy Island.

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