When I think about movies in general, I do not tend to give them a great deal of meaning. Some movies have serious themes and I do think about them, but I also still keep them in my mind as “movies.” I know film can be an art form but I think the entertainment quality stays with me as more important. Even when a movie goes into a very dramatic story and brings up important issues, I am always aware that it is mostly about entertaining. As I write this I realize that this is a limiting way of seeing them. Movies are supposed to entertain, but there is no reason why the medium should not be artistic as well. I then wonder how much important story-telling I miss because I do not take them seriously enough. I know that I am able to give deep thought to other forms of art. It then strikes me that I am a little biased because we know too much about how and why movies are made. This makes it harder to take them seriously because the media lets us know so much about the costs, the stars, and the box office issues. It is strange that, even as films today are more sophisticated and tackle so many issues, we are given so much information about the processes of making them, it is harder to take them seriously as works of art or dramatic statements.

Your 20% discount here!

Use your promo and get a custom paper on
War Films Journal

Order Now
Promocode: SAMPLES20

I am also not usually given to accepting movies when they set out to make a big statement or ask “important questions.” I get suspicious. I am always a little concerned that I will be seeing one director’s philosophy instead of a good story. I believe this is a big problem with many modern movies, in fact, and especially with war films. Because they are seen as an art form by so many people and critics, they are used to send messages. This is also not something limited to modern films. Since the beginning of movies war has been a major theme or story. I can understand this easily. War allows for “built-in” drama. Men and women are fighting for their lives, and there is also then all the kinds of drama that go with such situations. People struggle over issues of right and wrong, and the morality of killing in war, and their personal lives also are often used to take advantage of the core drama. In terms of the genre itself, I do not think any of this has really changed over the years. Early war films and the more modern ones still depend on the powerful tensions that exist when people face death in combat. It is a universal story, one any society can understand. What has changed in my eyes is the way directors want to dig deeper into meaning, and for me this usually means a lesson being given. The lessons are different depending on the film, but there is still that sense of needing to educate the audience about the morality of war.

From what I know and have seen, this need to educate by “asking questions” was not always the case with war movies. In the past they were more created to have a certain and strong effect. This is certainly true when war movies of the 1940s and 1950s are seen. Because the U.S. was at war in the 1940s, there was a clear motive to make Americans heroic and to show the enemy as evil. Many war films made in these years ask no question beyond whether or not the American hero will make it home to his family. If the war scenes were made to show war as terrifying, there was still no doubt as to the need of it. Whether the enemy was the Japanese or the Germans, they were unquestionably evil and it was the duty of the American to defeat them. In a sense these were war films as propaganda, even when they also added storylines of romance and personal conflict. The war was not just a backdrop, but it was also the film’s foundation of good and bad for the rest of the film to use.

Of course all that changed after Vietnam. The 1970s on led to many war movies that asked serious questions about the basic rightness of ever going to war. At the same time the idea of the enemy changed as well because nothing is clear in these films. For example, The Deer Hunter shows the Vietnamese as abusing the American soldiers, but there is also a sense of them as being victims themselves. The Russian roulette scene, for example, is not about good Americans trapped by evil Asians. It is about a nightmare all are trapped in. Other modern war movies go farther in showing how immoral Americans can be. In Oliver Stone’s Platoon, for example, soldiers are base. They are opportunists, not heroes, and the film asks the question then of what is actually right when everything is wrong, as is the case of war. These films try to explore human meaning, and they also share the quality of presenting war as an insane situation. The old ideas about heroism and good do not apply, and the directors now use war to express ideas and questions about the nature of human beings themselves. Some are more direct, while others like Saving Private Ryan go more for a sentimental effect. The common element is that war itself is always ugly and usually a tragic waste.

If it is unfair to accuse all such directors of sending messages that are too direct, this is still how I feel. In simple terms I do not trust war movies because I have reason to believe the director is going to try to teach me a lesson about life. I understand that this is an ambition in many other kinds of genres. Most great stories do have something to say. Others do ask serious questions about why people behave as they do. However, for me turning to war as the background is just too obvious. It offers a ready-made lecture of a kind and it is one I do not think anyone needs to hear today. I can understand why more modern directors wanted to expose the reality of war after decades of movies glamorizing it. This is valuable in fact. It is important to show the truth of a horrible reality when that truth has been hidden for propaganda or entertainment purposes. However, the work is done and it has been done for a long time. I cannot believe that any audience today does not know that war is never about good versus evil, and that moral decisions are nearly impossible in a completely immoral world of war. In a sense I feel that this war foundation has been used too much – there is nothing new it can offer. This explains why I am suspicious about war movies. The ones made in the 1970s had an agenda. It was obvious, but at least it was saying something different. Ever since then the same statement is made over and over, and I have to wonder about any director who wants to use the genre.

This is not at all to suggest that there is nothing new to say about humanity or the ways people act. Great drama always finds ways to offer new insights into the same formulas. It is based on love, hate, ethical choices, relationships, and all the other parts of human experience. To say something about any of this with war as the theme, however, is to take the easy way out in my eyes. It is to depend on a very specific formula that already has been used in every possible way. I also think it lets the directors and writers off “easy” because they do not have to create a basis for the drama. While I do appreciate that there have been modern war films that are interesting, I still think that the interest is apart from the obvious foundation of the genre. In my thinking there is absolutely nothing new any director can bring to a film from war, and using it as the core of the story always makes me think that this is then a director who is limited, and who needs a ready-made platform to say statements that have been said too many times.