The War Film is one of the most used genres to explore themes such as sacrifice, humanity and societal behavior during times of turmoil using combat as a plot device and war as the background or canvas for these stories which range from real to fictitious.
Some of the best films, ironically, are the ones that show war at its most cruel and unforgiving, and it could be that these tales are told in such way so they can teach us how strong we really are.
The following movies I want to share with you range from the most obvious regarding their positive message to the not so obvious, and you might end up thinking I'm overly positive and crazy at the same time but this article is about positivity and I want to think that these films were given to us as a beautiful present wrapped inside a very dark box.
* Warning: This article is full of spoilers *
5. Life Is Beautiful (1998)
Life Is Beautiful is a very positive movie and can get to the point of being cheesy and a little bit annoying but it never shies away from it. The movie knows its intentions and has to be given credit for never breaking the tone it is aiming for. It is hard to portray war as slapstick humor and as a drama at the same time but Life is Beautiful keeps showing us the atrocities of war through Guido's (Roberto Benigni) eyes and actions as if we, the audience, were his child. A child cannot comprehend the horrors of war and instead of forcing this view, Guido makes the difficult decision of hiding this terrible view of the world from his son and from us. He does everything for his child and wife and that message is never lost.
4. Fury (2014)
"Best job I ever had" This line is said throughout the movie by the crew led by Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) and it actually says a lot about the movie. "Wardaddy" and his squad of hardened war veterans know this is what their lives are all about: war has shaped them and now they are part of this environment. Enter Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) a clerk typist who, reluctantly, gets drafted into "Wardaddy's" squad as a replacement. This is war after all, so he is expected to step up to the plate just like any other soldier. The final moments of the film are played behind enemy lines, where they make a powerful last stand. The movie highlights the selfless sacrifice of these men but what I see as a happy ending is the fact that Norman survives at the end. He survives because an SS soldier that discovers him hiding under the tank, decides not to report him. This is a very important moment for the reason that it seems that the SS soldier is the same age as Norman, showing us that this war is not theirs. "Wardaddy," his crew, and the Nazis that died in that battle were part of that world but Norman and the young SS soldier did not belong there. Someone needed to rebuild this world and that would be the best job Norman and the young SS soldier could ever have.
3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
"Earn this" is probably one of the most powerful quotes ever heard in the context of a movie. With his dying breath, Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) tells Private Ryan (Matt Damon) to earn everything that was sacrificed to get him home safe. Being a Steven Spielberg movie, we were almost guaranteed an uplifting resolution to these events and thankfully we got one. The movie ends with an elderly Private Ryan standing above Miller's grave paying his respects and asking his wife if he has been a good man, to which she replies: "You are."
2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
This is the story of two boys on opposite sides of World War II. Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish prisoner and Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the son of the commandant at the concentration camp where Shmuel is currently located strike up a friendship that includes playing board games and food offers from Bruno to Shmuel. One day, Shmuel tells Bruno that his dad didn't return to the camp after going marching. Bruno decides to help Shmuel by disguising himself with a striped prisoner's uniform and goes with Shmuel into the camp looking for his father. Unfortunately, the boys are rounded up with other prisoners and are taken into a gas chamber. The movie ends with the boys holding hands and then silence. This movie was criticized for its historical inaccuracies and the fact that the holocaust was cheaply used in order to create major sentimental impact with the audiences, but that doesn't detract from the great acting and narrative of the two boys. The boys died but their innocence remained intact. Children are prime targets for ideologies to mold them as desired, but Shmuel and Bruno lived their short lives without labels or sides. They were good friends and the two of them holding hands at the end sends a beautiful message of hope and optimism.
1. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Grave of the Fireflies is a beautiful movie and it shows the power of animation and storytelling at its best. “September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” That's how the movie starts and it doesn't let go of you. The story is centered on the siblings Seita and Setsuko who are trying to survive in a war-ravaged Japan during the final moments of World War II. Seita is the older brother and we see that his sister Setsuko's health is deteriorating by the minute while at the same time we see the consequences of war in the background. Setsuko and Seita are fighting a war of their own and seeing Setsuko making "rice balls" for him is simply heartbreaking. With the war at its end, Seita manages to get his hands on some real food and when he tries to feed his sister, she is too tired to even try chewing on it. Setsuko’s last words are, “Seita, thank you.” Even in her last moments, she shows kindness, innocence, and gratitude to her brother implying that everything will be alright. Even at her young age, she notices Seita's sacrifice and effort. He did everything he could and maybe to him, it wasn't enough. But for Setsuko, he gave her a world full of beauty and love and no war will ever take that away from them.
So, there you have it. These are really emotional and hard to watch movies but at the same time full of optimism and uplifting messages. Are there any war films that you've seen that are similar to the ones discussed? Let's hear it in the comments!
sources: imdb, wikipedia.org/wiki/War_film