JULY / AUG 2011: BY RISSI C.
Stories of wartime are so often presented painfully today. Even in bygone years one couldn’t go to the cinema without seeing film reels requesting help for troops overseas. Whether such stories be through current events or film, they range from heroic gestures that at times result in the loss of one life to save another to bonds of brotherhood within platoons to romantic epics in which lovers are torn apart. And through each of these topics, almost everyone can find something inspiring and with gratitude can humbly thank those past and present who served in the military. Unfortunately most of the films (especially those of recent years) are jaded in their depiction of war. Their goal is to convince us to hate the principles of conflict.
Several entertainment outlets during times of war have explored romance in a time when luxuries were rare and every fleeting moment was precious… but another thing some adaptations have done is paint a false picture of just what war is really like. With exception to certain iconic battles, it is… boring. Most writers have to create a false image of warfare, otherwise the population wouldn’t buy the latest novel or put a film on top at the box office. Love stories have been fodder for many big-scale productions and while sometimes I do not appreciate how each fable ends what can be enjoyed is a well-constructed saga. Even during the confusion or later jubilation of wartime, there were many romantic rumors or affairs—remember that iconic kiss?
Probably one of my first introductions to a war on-screen was Hallmark Hall of Fame’s In Love and War (not to be confused with the Sandra Bullock film). It tells the tender and factual story of a British soldier captured by Germans and sheltered by an Italian woman. The story unfolds on soil that isn’t protected from soldiers raiding homes or troops of men camping nearby. Weeks pass and with time, Wanda teaches Eric more about her life so he is able to better blend into the foreign land… but a decision may separate the pair forever. It isn’t hard to distinguish the obtrusive differences between now and past eras but it’s been proven that when time comes to tell stories of forbidden love, that has stood the test of time.
In contrast, look at the modern wartime romance by Nicholas Sparks, Dear John. John meets the vibrant, pretty college student Savannah and is smitten. They are together every waking moment during his brief leave but all it takes is two weeks for something akin to love to develop. After John’s return, the two keep in contact through letters… but what neither of them foresee is the test their relationship will expose with a letter that changes everything.
Both of these stories have a similar something going for them; they are fostered by time, such a fleeting thing in life. I do not condone loves forged in such a short time, or at least, those in real life, but I do understand the need to further a bond quickly on screen, and in such angsty circumstances Most of the results in both stories are beautiful and each contain moments of enchantment.
In the story of Eric and Wanda, both love one another unconditionally and fate rewards them. John and Savannah’s story isn’t so charming in the idea that they love without condition. Savannah is a conservative student by conviction but she allows separation from John to rule her emotions and take them to negative places. Her eventual betrayal hurts both of them in different ways, but it is her reasoning of that betrayal that is preposterous. Since the story covers the 9/11 tragedy, this is one of those movies that tries to besmirch war for everything from Savannah’s weak self-control to John being coerced into re-upping the stakes; war therefore quickly becomes the easiest target on which to lay blame. Almost as if it were on auto-pilot, war has been called out as reason for tearing lives apart and given that, upsetting the delicate balance that we “real” human beings live in a world rocked by so many sin-driven scandals. Constants in life, whether they be persons or effects or headline news, drive people into upheaval (emotional habits), the results of which allow us safe culpability towards anything, even where it does not necessarily belong.
Further film examples enforcing such ethics come in the adaptation of a best-selling novel, Atonement. It chronicles the lives of a wealthy family whose young daughter accuses the son of a servant of a crime he did not commit, driving a wedge between the two daughters. Time changes their lives and eventually, the younger of the two, Briony, later recounts the story in a novel as an adult. Depressing as it is on its own, it too likes to play the guilt card on war as reason behind the extended misery forced on its characters. While some of their lives are cut short by circumstances beyond their control, in getting there, they still lived a terrible existence.
Then there is The Lost Valentine in which a great example of ever-lasting love is presented in some of its most beautiful forms. It is a multi-generational story about two different couples, one taking place at the start of America’s entrance into WWII. A newlywed sends her husband off to fight for his country, never to see him again. Cynics may not like it because it presents an unrealistic view of the age-old adage “one true love,” meaning you can never find love again once it is gone.
Common threads connecting these stories are its characters going through warfare in different ways. Though unspoken it felt like something that enforced certain choices, but to many it was the enemy.
While it is all right to get caught up in the romance of the moment, culture wants us to view life through rose-colored glasses. But much like Savannah’s love for John, it isn’t given without condition. Laying blame to something or someone has become common in film rather than the characters taking responsibility for their choices. Savannah’s excuses for leaving John are petty; physical separation—letters couldn’t sustain her. It is we who create the messes our lives fall into. In dismissing the blame, we let society’s trap ensnare us. What is it about them that makes their way right and ours outdated? The answer is simple; nothing. As a nation, thinking for ourselves and more accurately, taking responsibility for our own actions is a foreign concept. Should we blame something or own up to our mistakes?
Eric and Wanda face much conflict and the war does not take the brunt of blame for the consequences of their actions; instead, the experience makes the couple more confident and grow closer together. John is selfless in that he loves Savannah unconditionally, but while she was his soul mate, in the end she did not deserve him. Savannah let doubt creep in and convince her that obligation over love was the better course. The circumstances were not the cause of her decisions but her fear and co-dependency. She could not remain strong while apart from the man she loved, so she abandoned him, and the blame is in his absence rather than her foolishness.
Hollywood’s ideals of war haven’t been kind to a necessary evil to preserve human life. For generations wars have been fought in different ways for many reasons. We have grown weary but comfortable in being products in our circumstances—often something much bigger than us. Is it easier to blame a convenience or own up to choices? To answer that question almost is redundant, but the harder things in life are usually the most rewarding. It is such a cliché to vent anger at something that is controlled by our individual choices. Given the crossroads in life, won’t that life be so much more beautiful when looked at with a clear conscience? ■