Spielberg’s “War Horse”

Director Steven Spielberg clearly understands the horrors of war. The USC Shoah Foundation Institute he founded records the testimony of Holocaust survivors. His long list of credits include “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

Spielberg demonstrates these horrors again in the film version of “War Horse,” a movie based on both the children’s book by beloved British author Michael Morpurgo and the Tony-Award winning play his book inspired. The screenplay was written by Lee Hall (screenwriter for the 2000 film “Billy Elliot”) and Richard Curtis.

Spielberg describes “War Horse” as a story of the powerful bond between a boy and his horse. His family owns several horses, and he’s seen the love between child and horse firsthand. One of the film’s most endearing threads is all the people, of different nationalities, who face peril for protecting horses caught up in the war.

But “War Horse” feels first and foremost like a war movie, something parents need to know before deciding to take young children to see it. It’s rated PG-13 for a reason. People and horses suffer terrible fates. Think machine guns and massive tanks. Firing squads and grenades. Barbed wire and brutality.

War reveals our common humanity, something that’s beautifully conveyed in this film. When “War Horse” Joey is trapped, two soldiers from opposing sides work together to free him. When a girl questions her grandfather’s courage, he explains that there are many ways to be brave.

But the story doesn’t begin with war. Instead, it all starts with relationships. We see a teenage boy named Albert at home on his family’s humble farm, where his longsuffering mother endures uncertainty and ridicule wrought by his father’s drinking and lousy judgement. Their relationship generates one of the movie’s best lines — something akin to “I might hate you more, but I’ll never love you less.”

Albert’s mother is one of two parents in the film who share an important family belonging that proves pivotal in unexpected ways. Both items serve as powerful reminders that our histories, both individual and collective, never leave us. Deny them or embrace them — but you can never destroy them.

“War Horse” reminds us that history is made up of moments, of the decisions we make alone and together, of the choices that sometimes have unintended consequences. It demonstrates our drive to protect what we love in a world where love sometimes means letting go.

Parents will find several scenes especially profound — a big brother’s attempt to help his younger brother escape the front lines, a grandfather’s fireside reflections on the importance of home, a young girl’s innocent ride up and over a mountain.

Take it all in, then take it home with a renewed appreciation for the joys and responsibilities of the everyday.

— Lynn

Coming up: Comparing “War Horse” on stage and screen

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3 responses to “Spielberg’s “War Horse”

  1. Without a doubt, this is Spielberg trying his hardest to manipulate the hell out of his audience but it somehow works and brought me into the story despite some of the very corny moments. The cat doesn’t really have any big-names either, but they are all great in each of their own respective roles as well. Great review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

  2. Thanks for reading the post– I checked out yours as well, and agree the choice of lesser known actors made all the difference. The acting didn’t wow me, but bigger names would have distracted from the story. — Lynn

  3. It is nice to see a current treatment of the Great War which is now largely forgotten but yet so formative for the 20th Century. The juxtaposition of horses and 19th Century tactics with mechanized warfare was haunting. From the soldier’s point of view, dead horses behind the lines were a great source of extra food if they were not contaminated with gas: http://worldwar1letters.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/somewhere-in-france-7101918/

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