So why haven't I seen it? Well, I'll tell you.
|It is not this bad... yet|
I'm so sick of World War II films, especially those that take place in the western front. I find it compelling that a war that happened over 70 years ago still captures the imagination of filmmakers and writers. But even if that is the case, I find it even more curious that for a war that is named after the whole world-- for good reason-- how much we tend to focus on only one part of the conflict.
I've been thinking a lot about this since the Oscars because I should have the desire to see Dunkirk -- I just don't. I just can't get over that this film seems like every other World War II film but just shot at a different angle. Not to say World War II is not interesting in of itself and we must never forget what happened during the Holocaust or the dangers of imperialism but how many times can we tell this story? Allied soldiers show strength and gumption of human spirit while defeating the darkness of humanity in the form of the Axis.
I think one of the reasons why this story is such a draw is because we like our good versus evil narratives. We want that clear line between what is good and what is evil. We want to cheer the good guys and jeer the bad guys and feel all fuzzy inside when good triumphs. World War II is really the only war in recent memory in which the line is pretty clear. While the allies did commit atrocities including even the U.S. interning their own citizens and the controversial atomic bomb drop, nothing can really top sending certain groups of people to gas chambers after a campaign of othering them. Or a clear form of imperialism, intent of world domination, steamrolling over one country to the next. Hitler can easily be painted as Darth Vader. The Japanese can be portrayed like a single hivemind of Borgish evil. And Italy can be forgotten even though Fascist Italy rose to power first and partially inspired Hitler to begin with. I'm not defending the axis, keep in mind, but situations in all three countries are a lot more complex than depicted.
|Wait... I'm confused. Which is the bad guy?|
Compare this to the wars that happened afterward. Like Vietnam. Very few Americans nowadays defend the Vietnam War. And sure, jingoistic movies about 'Nam exist, but for the most part movies depicting the war show the hopelessness of it, that young men are going to a country they never heard of to die. Or they come back home to protesters. Sure, the 60's and the 70's were different time for media, but it is like movies about World War II never really shifted focus while other war movies have. That comes down to the fact that WWII had a clearer cause -- stop Germany from taking over Europe and stop Japan from doing the same but in Asia and to stop Italy from eating too many damn carbs.
|Remember, Full Metal Jacket humanized the sniper who was the antagonist for most of the film and is even more human than the Drill Instructor in the beginning|
One of the frustrating aspects of WWII movies is that there are a goldmine of stories that haven't been touched -- probably because they don't take place on the western front. There are tons of stories from India, North Africa, the Eastern Front, the Pacific. Even some neglected stories on the western front. I even came up with some ideas.
Probably one of my most favorite stories is that of Agent Garbo or Juan Pujol Garcia. He was a Spanish double agent for Britain. And his deception greatly aided the allied forces on D-Day. Juan was kind of an odd guy -- had many odd jobs and none of them stuck. He loved movies though and one of his failed ventures was running a movie theater. He really hated the Nazis and other fascists having participated in the Spanish Civil War. He wanted to help the allied cause. The Brits wouldn't take him at first so he went and lied to the Germans that he had accesses to the Brits. The Germans took him in and once he had established that contact, Juan went back to the Brits and gave his offer again. They accepted. So, Juan developed a complex spy network -- that never really existed. He entirely made it up -- even giving his spies personalities and temperaments. He then used that network to mislead the Germans for the Brits.
|This picture cracks me up|
Tell me how that would not make an amazing movie! You could frame it like a comedy, maybe told through the eyes of aging Juan to his grandchildren, maybe exaggerating a bit of it. You could have scenes with the fake spies acting it out like on an episode of Drunk History. And I don't know, maybe get Oscar Isaac in the lead role.
Another idea I had for a WWII movie not in the Western Front would be a story about the Eastern Front. A very human story about the civilians in Stalingrad for instance. Or maybe look to the Baltic states as they find themselves between a very old enemy and new dangerous one. I know we have Enemy at the Gates but the Eastern Front was just downright depressing and a heavy slog through the Russian winter. It was less morally clear than the western front
There have been many Holocaust films but none (that I've seen) that touch on what happened to the Jewish communities in Baghdad or in North Africa. Baghdad instituted progroms of their own -- although I realize that would be a politically loaded topic now as it has been hijacked by Islamophobes. But still, there used to be a large Jewish community in Baghdad but the progroms during WWII decimated that population.
There were also stories in North Africa in which when France fell or Germany took over, Muslims protected their Jewish neighbors. Check out the story of Khaled_Abdul-Wahab who when he heard that the German occupiers planned to rape his Jewish neighbor, he got the Germans drunk and took in the entire family and their neighbors, saving them not only from the rape threat but also from forced labor.
Then there was an idea for a movie I had while reading about the Pacific Front. I read the account of a Japanese officer landing on one of those tropical, thick with jungle islands near Papua New Guinea. More of his men died from disease or the fauna than from actual attacks by the allies. I got thinking how terrifying that must be, to be on an island in which there were parasites and critters that ate some of your comrades in addition to the enemy you were there to fight. I thought of an idea of a horror film about an expedition to such an island. And there may be something decidedly Lovecraftian on the island but it isn't very clear if there really is or if our protagonist is affected by disease or it is war weariness. That would be a movie I would love to see.
|IDK, maybe this is in the jungle|
Having said all that, I hope people realize there are other wars just as interesting as WWII. How about World War I. How about other battlefronts than the western one? Can we do a story through the point of view of an Indian or a North African in any of these conflicts? Hey, maybe we can do a movie about women associated with the WAC. We can show the women going through their basic training and so forth. Hey, why don't we do a movie about the French and Indian War through the Native American point of view? There was a bit of political intrigue going on with the Iroquois and the Algonquin. Also along the same lines -- how about we do a mini-series about King Philip's War? You could follow both the Native Americans and the Colonists. First season can be the build up, surrounding the death of John Sassamon, itself a mystery. Then the next season can be about the hostilities.
But I get it. People like war films and not only that, a hero to cheer for. Unfortunately, war is a complicated beast and all can't be broken down into the dichotomy of good versus evil. WWII, though, is the one war in recent memory in which you can and get away with it. Can we at least branch out from the western front now? As for Dunkirk, my respect for Nolan as a filmmaker will probably eventually overcome this aversion to western front stories to see it but for now...