Wednesday, November 11, 2009

War Movie or Movie During War?


Yesterday in honor of veteran's day (which is in fact today, though it should be everyday) a good blogging buddy of mine, MadHatter wrote up a post on his blog detailing his all time favorite war films. While I did my usual comment throwing up my personal war films (based on how they order in my top 100) I got to reading some of the other comments and selections people had made. A lot of basics, your sort of essentials were present, but a particular comment by DangerGirl caught my attention: "For me Platoon would need to be on the list and Hope and Glory and Empire of the Sun would need to be slipped in there somewhere as well."

This post intrigued me as prior to that I would have never even considered Hope and Glory or Empire of the Sun "war movies." In fact, I still don't but that's besides the point. I think the question becomes how do we classify what exactly is a war movie, and what is a movie that takes place during war. Why do films like Braveheart and Bridge on the River Kwai often find themselves so high on general films lists but so low on "war" films lists? How do we separate, even at a subconscious level, a war film from a movie that takes place during war.

For example: Atonement. If you were to ask me to put down all the labels for Atonement I don't think war movie would even strike me as a possibility. But alas it does take place during the early days of WW2, and as such could very well be a war movie. What makes Letters From Iwo Jima different from Atonement? Is it that one takes place in its entirety in war and the other takes place in events surrounding it? I sadly don't have the answer. Would it be wrong of us to separate the two? If so then do we begin to throw in films such as Casablanca as a war movie. Do movies such as The Bicycle Thieves which deal with the aftermath of a war qualify?

Of course if we decide that the two are of separate stature how do we decide which ones are which? Do we separate based on a certain level of action? Movies that take place during battles are war movies, movies that take place at home or movies during war? Then what is Der Untergang, sure there is a level of battle, but it's a movie about people of the war, not people in the battles. Does a war movie have to be historical, can it only take place via actual events or do the science fiction realm qualify since they are at times about wars? As it is the only definition of war is "a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations." Let's be honest that doesn't help much.

If you're hoping that right now I'm going to whip out some simple definition that sums it all up I hate to disappoint, but alas I cannot. I don't think there is a simple answer. I think we all, due to a million reasons, each select what we qualify as a war movie on our own. I really want to hear from you all, how do you separate a war film from a film during war, or do you at all?

Thanks for reading!

10 better thoughts:

MovieNut14 said...

Well, to me I consider a war movie set on the battlefield (i.e. Saving Private Ryan). A movie during war is more along the lines of the movie taking place during the war, but far away from the fighting (i.e. Casablanca).

Ryan McNeil said...

Part of it might be how the story is set. For instance, I'd consider ATONEMENT a wartime film, versus say PATHS OF GLORY which is more a war film.

They're equally important, which now kinda makes me wish I'd broadened out my list a bit...the main difference being the scope of the stories. More often than not, war films contain themselves to the struggle itself, wheras the wartime films step back a bit and show us how the war has changed the lives of the characters involved.

These characters - wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers - have the unenviable taks of trying to keep living while not getting crushed under the weight of worry. In other stories of course, things get even it's these everyday people who get suddenly pulled into the fray.

I'm actually a tad pissed at myself, because along with not taking a moment to fully think about whether or not THE HURT LOCKER should make the five, I also completely forgot about one of the best I've ever seen: 2005's JOYEUX NOEL. Add that one to your to-see list - you won't regret it.

Andrew K. said...

Very good points. It's all about the subjectivity of these sports [Jerry Maguire?] courtroom and such. We can derive musical or comedy easily but those sub genres are tougher.

On Mad Hatter's point I actually don't consider Atonement as a war film. But I just commented on his post that I'm unsure as to whether or not The English Patient is a war film. I don't remember it as such, but thematically war elements are pervasive.

hollypest said...

Soldiers on the battlefield

"All Quiet on the Western Front" WWI,
"The Longest Day" WWII,
"The Steel Helmet" Korean War,
"Platoon" Vietnam War

These are all war movies

Soldiers off the battlefield

"Johnny Got His Gun" WWI
"Home of the Brave" WWII
"MASH" Korean War
"Coming Home" Vietnam War

These are all movies during/about war

Ryan McNeil said...

(Buckle up for increased readership buddy - This one's on IMCb today)

Univarn said...

@hollypest While I do agree with your list, I do believe it's at times hard to simplify the list quite so heavily, especially with films that deal heavily with both in and outside war, such as Paths of Glory.

@Mad IMCb? :o

mverlei_evhs said...

Maybe we're putting a little too much emphasis on the genre/subgenre of movies.

Flick said...

What about Tigerland? It's set during Vietnam War but on an Infantry Training camp, more of a war at home genre but then that could open up a lot more.

Univarn said...

@Matthew I think that's a very valid point, but of course comes the downside is that movie people love to make lists. Greatest x ever, and so on and so forth, so we may have to just let them set up the list however they want.

@Flick That's a tough. On one hand I would say it's a "war movie" because it directly involves people who are, or in this case will be, part of the war. Then again the "battle" argument constantly utilized for categorization wouldn't qualify it.

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