In 1864, during the American Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman made the statement "War is hell".
In 1917, Sam Mendes' movie set during the First World War, Mendes delivers a deeply personal understanding of two foot soldiers encountering directly the meaning of war as a hellish experience.
Lance corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are ordered to deliver a message to 1600 British infantry soldiers on the frontline.
The directive from General Erinmore (Colin Firth) commands the troops to stop the planned attack on the Germans' lines.
It's a day of quiet on the Western Front. The Germans have vacated their trenches, destroyed their weapons and moved back to a new front line.
The British take this as a sign that the Germans have retreated and they have the upper hand and can deliver the final blow. But the Germans only appear to have retreated. The reality is the Germans are luring the British troops into a trap.
The mission seems straightforward, except Blake and Schofield have to traverse many kilometres of trenches, cross no-man's land and proceed through enemy trenches in order to reach the British troops.
On top of the physical and environmental hardships they must endure is the fact that Lance Corporal Blake's brother is one of the 1600 soldiers who will die if he doesn't get the message to the soldiers. No pressure at all.
Similar stories have played out in films such as Saving Private Ryan and Gallipoli.
The monumental achievement of Mendes' film is the manner in which he and his production team immerse us in the time and place.
There is an immediacy and sense of what it may have been like to live, fight, survive or die in the waterlogged, rat-infested trenches while encountering blistering bombardments, sniper fire and all-out combat.
Although 1917 has moments of intense battles interspersed with high tension, the film's true achievement is the incredibly personal story of two young men committed to deliver the general's message and complete their mission successfully.
They are challenged. They encounter the shadow of death. They experience fear. They exhibit courage.
Yet they maintain their human qualities and show sympathy and compassion, even to German soldiers, sometimes to their own peril.
There is no single story of war that conveys everyone's experience of war.
Anyone who has not experienced war and the field of battle cannot know the impact it has on peoples' lives.
Sam Mendes film is based on the stories told by his grandfather and presents one perspective.
Yet he manages to transform his grandfather's tales into a film that allows us to know the meaning of General Sherman's statement that war is hell.
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