1917 ★★½

The problem with the one-shot gimmick in 1917 is that while it tries to show the spectacle of war, it instead shows off the spectacle of film-making. The film doesn’t depict a war as much as it IS a war— a cinematographic war, poised to fight the camera through trenches, craters, barbed wire, across rivers, and through destroyed towns. Every completed sequence is itself a victorious skirmish; every inch that the camera travels has been fought for by countless hours of procedure, rehearsal, and planning. This means that the film has simulated its own war instead of representing the first world war, a demonstration of sheer filmic power from its apparatus of technical effects.

The two corporals, Blake and Schofield, are not the protagonists— the camera is. The young soldiers aren’t subjects to be captured by the camera, but objects there to justify the daringly heroic feats that the camera pulls off. When Blake and Schofield struggle down the steep edge of a muddy crater, the camera glides down beside them, drawing the attention away from the battling soldiers and towards its own movements, which seem to defy the possible. It is like this that the accomplishments of these soldiers become subservient to those of the invisible cinematic machinery. The content of the image shifts away from what is being filmed, and is deposited into the act of filming, or, how it is being filmed. The viewing eye watches the filming eye— and what is seen by the filming eye is then only a by-product, a pretext to facilitate the watching. The camera doesn’t represent the war as much as it represents representation itself. In other words: the true story the camera yearns to tell is its own.

The Real disappears; is pushed away and subsumed by the process of this representing. The truth of the old war is chased away by this modern twenty-first century feat of film-making. All the jagged edges of involvement and reality and jittery action are smoothed away by an unflinching eye. It is cinema that is drawn to the cinematic, that eschews the soldier’s phenomenological perspective in favour of the camera’s own direct experiences. And in doing so, the film animates a unique ontological reality— one that is centred on an entity which can somehow glide through the endless atrocities of warfare with an always consistent, unwavering, and steadfast gaze.

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