I wrote about the changing attitudes to war in cinema for Glasgow Film Theatre’s screenings of A War, by Tobias Lindholm.
Cinema is often a mirror to cultural preoccupations; cinema about war doubly so.
After World War I, the big screen was an outlet for a collective horror at the worst conflict on a global scale the planet had ever seen. Films like La Grande Illusion, A Farewell to Armsand All Quiet on the Western Front looked at this evil wrought upon the world and showed the human impact in heart-wrenching detail. However, after World War II the tone of war cinema shifted with more films acting as a celebration of heroism and an honouring of the people who fought. John Wayne made a conscious pro-war effort, appearing as a noble patriot fighting for his country in lively films with titles like The Green Berets and Flying Tigers. Anti-war films made it into cinemas, too, in the shape of Gregory Peck in Pork Chop Hill and David Lean’s phenomenal Bridge on the River Kwai. In both kinds of film, the audience response to the war was dictated by the tone of the film.
This tone turned to anger in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, when a disillusioned generation had to wrestle with the concept of a ‘just’ war; nobody disagreed that America should have been in World War II, but Vietnam was a disaster. Platoon seethed with anger at the corruption of innocence and the violence rent upon a nation, while Apocalypse Now, one of the finest war films ever made, turned the jungle into a psychological hellscape where people disappeared into madness. Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter and even MASH lampooned American involvement in a messy, brutal war.