I started reading your piece before watching 1917, pausing at the spoiler warning.
I had trouble with the film, too. Ironically, more with the premise than the conclusion. True, the latter was anticlimactic. But had the attack gone through in spite of their efforts it would have been another, costlier Gallipoli.
No. Consider the set up: there’s a need to warn the Devon’s commander of the impending trap, so of course we must use a messenger who has close relative among the junior officers. Two battalions are set to advance. 1600 men are somehow going to break open the Western Front, outflank some 3 million Germans & end the war? Okay….
I also noticed how bloodless the film was, & despite the time of year, extremely dry. Hard to believe, given the setting is just a few miles south of Passchendaele. I wonder whether Mendes’s sanguineous parsimony wasn’t due to sensitivity over criticism Spielberg received for creating “wound porn” in Saving Private Ryan.
I think the ending didn’t bother as much because it was only ostensibly anticlimactic. The date, after is given as 7 April. One day after the US formally entered the war. I was surprised that no mention of it was made. But perhaps the line troops hadn’t got word yet. Twenty years after the war, Churchill, allegedly told the NY Enquirer: “America should have minded her own business & stayed out of the war….” Later, he denied it. No surprise given his strategy for pursing wwii was essentially alliance with the US. & even if he did say it, so what? We’ll never know for certain what might have been.
But it was possible. Given the degree to which both sides battered themselves senseless in ’16. A negotiated, face-saving peace prevents Nazism from ever taking root in Germany, or Fascism in Italy. In all likelihood the Bolshevik Revolution is also forestalled. WWII never takes place. Churchill claims the US declaration lead to an additional 1 million deaths on the Western Front, but if he’s right, it’s more like 40–60 million deaths prevented.
America’s entry into the war prevented either side from sitting back, resting & taking stock. The catastrophic Nivelle Offensives loomed right around the corner, nearly destroying the French Army. Then the mud & muck & blood of Passchendaele erupted as the BEF attempts to relieve the pressure on their ally. Then come Ludendorff’s Michael Offensives as Germany tries to win the war before the US build up … & so on.
The message of the Great War is futility. & this very minor reprieve exemplifies it.
“I thought today was going to be a good day…”
Finally, we’re used to seeing British military figures presented as assholes. It even goes back to pre-history—long ago in a galaxy far, far away, when the redoubtable Peter Cushing led the evil empire. As in Spielberg’s Captain Fitzgerald from Amistad, it was nice to see a change.
So again, much ado about a so so film. Most do have trouble getting the Great War right. Even the otherwise excellent Gallipoli seems to goof when it portrays Archy generously deferring to Frank for the messenger job, when messengering was, in most areas, considered more dangerous than front-line infantry.