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(I wrote this in the style of Robert Service, one of my favorite poets, who wrote several poems inspired by his time as an ambulance driver in World War I.)

There’s a time in the life of a soldier entrenched
When he cannot endure anymore,
When his teeth are like glass having been so long clenched
And he’s numb to the screams and the gore,

When his mind barely registers pleasure or pain
And his nerve’s on the edge of a knife,
When his soul is unlikely to wash out the stain
Of the ongoing ending of life,

When the order to “Go” couldn’t move his clay feet
Even if he had will to obey,
When war seems no more than the grinding of meat
For some heinous, infernal buffet.

At times such as these, when one’s mettle and wits
Have been wrung further than they extend,
The heroes decide alongside hypocrites
How they choose to meet their journey’s end.
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MPA rating:  R (I consider it a light R, for a few violent moments and occasional F words)

Though it may seem I’m destined to only post on holidays, I am trying to get to a more consistent schedule. It seemed only fitting to review a war movie on Veteran’s Day, and a World War I movie seemed even more fitting, considering the significance of November 11, when the armistice ending that terrible war was signed. Journey’s End brings the desperation of that war to life in a wholly compelling way, making it a must-watch for anyone interested in WWI.

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Based on a 1928 play by war veteran R. C. Sherriff, which has already been adapted four other times, Journey’s End doesn’t try to provide a sweeping look at the whole war, instead focusing on a single week in March of 1918, as British troops braced themselves for an expected German offensive. Fresh-faced 2nd Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) asks to be assigned to Company C, commanded by his former school friend Captain Stanhope (a tortured Sam Claflin). He finds his old pal changed by the horrors of war, and his initial opinion of a war raid as “exciting” is quickly sobered by experiencing them firsthand.

What Journey’s End does best is capture snapshots of the feeling of trench warfare, albeit mainly from an officer’s perspective. We feel the tension of soldiers wishing something would happen, followed by the grim resignment of being chosen for that something; the seeming indifference of superior officers; the conflict of different coping mechanisms; the helplessness of men at the end of their own rope having to comfort others at the end of theirs; and the mental anguish of wishing someone both “goodbye” and “good luck,” possibly for the last time. Plenty of small details add to the realism, such as the men getting a dose of rum and emptying their bladders before going “over the top.”

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The obvious comparison for me in appraising a WWI movie is judging it next to last year’s 1917, and, while Journey’s End can’t quite compare on technical proficiency, it surpasses the newer film in characterization, with Paul Bettany’s personable second-in-command being a particular light among the dull grays of the trenches. In addition to the acting, the cinematography is also excellent, though, with a few comparatively short tracking shots bringing 1917 to mind. War films can be hard to sit through, but those like Journey’s End are a constant reminder of how lucky we are to be able to sit around on couches watching movies when we could just as easily have been down to our last nerve in muddy trenches, but for the distance of 100 years. To all veterans, thank you!

Best line: (Bettany’s Lieutenant Osborne, writing home) “There is a job to be done. It ought never to have arisen, but that is not the point. I have had so very much out of life, but all these youngsters do not realize how unlucky they are, so new are they to their very existence.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
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