“Gentlemen. You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.” President Merkin Muffley to General Buck Turgidson and Russian Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski in “Dr Strangelove”(1964)
There are thousands of movies that depict war and its consequences. The audiovisual medium is sensory and concrete – uniquely suited to capture the horror, pain and suffering of the many forms of armed conflict. Some of the best war films:
To understand the complexities of war, one needs go no further than the films of acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick. Be it the Third Servile War found in “Spartacus”(1960), the Seven Years War of “Barry Lyndon”(1975), or the Vietnam War as harrowingly depicted in “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) Kubrick forces his audience to come to uneasy conclusions. His best are:
“Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”(1964) The black comedy masterpiece starring Peter Sellers in three roles as the vexed President, a British RAF officer, and the wheelchair-bound ex-Nazi scientist, Dr. Strangelove. He’s joined by Sterling Hayden and George C. Scott as imbalanced, bordering on deranged, U.S. generals determined to start a nuclear holocaust.
“Well, Mr President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops…” The film, based on the book “Red Alert” by Peter George, is full of memorable scenes and lines including iconic western character actor Slim Pickins riding an atomic bomb like a bucking bronco.
For a serious look at the same subject matter, watch “Fail Safe” (1964) starring Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau. (Both on Amazon and YouTube)
“Paths of Glory”(1957) stars Kirk Douglas as the World War I French army commander who refuses to send his men on a suicidal attack and is court martialed. It is based on the 1935 novel by Humphrey Cobb, and loosely based on a true incident. Four innocent men are ordered to face a firing squad to build the resolve to fight among their fellow soldiers. (Amazon)
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930, USA). Although “Saving Private Ryan” is widely (and rightfully) considered the most experiential depiction of war and its endless bloodshed, director Lewis Milestone’s WWI epic doesn’t need the spectacle of modern-day effects to show its horror. Focusing on German youth who are eager to fight, the film shows how the boys’ idealized beliefs about heroism and morality are supplanted by the reality of modern warfare. In one particularly harrowing sequence, soldiers are mowed down by machine gun fire as they leave the trenches. The repetitive and futile loss of life has lost none of its staying power. (Amazon)
“Come and See” (1985, Soviet Union). Elem Klimov’s surreal, sweeping portrait of a Belarusian teenager named Flyora, who fights against the Nazi occupation in 1943, remains one of the most vivid portrayals of psychological trauma in war. Because we experience the atrocities of the war as Flyora does, we have the same awakening and discovery. Much of what he sees is unfit to print. Klimov was an antagonist to Soviet authorities for years, but this film became a major success in his home country, considered so accurate to veterans that “ambulances had to be regularly called to the theaters” during its run. (Criterion Channel)
“Grave of the Fireflies” (1988, Japan). Perhaps there’s no film that depicts the emotional weight of war more than Isao Takahata’s movie. Set in the Japanese city of Kobe during the final days of firebombing in WWII, the film follows teenager Seita and his sister as they attempt to stay alive in their rapidly deteriorating homeland. After their home is destroyed by a bomb, they find themselves living on the streets and facing a bleak future. Takahata’s masterful touch lends a universality to both characters, and they become stand-ins for the faceless children of war. Their innocent lives are upended by turmoil which, seemingly, will never end. (Vudu, Apple)
(This column is written jointly by a baby boomer, Denny Parish, and a millennial, Carson Parish, who also happen to be father and son.)