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A call to arms: They don’t make anti war films like they used to

The best anti war stories seem to have already been told.

Movie are a great example of how categorizing makes life much easier. There are action, horror, and drama. For more adventurous moviegoers, there are sub-genres such as torture porn and rom-coms. A person can go see a big budget blockbuster or an arthouse film. There is even a subset of movies that defy categorization. Chances are, someone has made a film for whatever you are in the mood to see.


Along with taking us on emotional journeys, movies have also pointed their cameras at society. Filmmakers have explored themes and issues that society has sometimes been afraid to tackle head on. Sometimes the message is tone deaf, while other times it is over the top, but the intent is always the same. Movies can shed light or add a exclamation mark on important issues.

War been a part of cinema since the first cameras started rolling. Initially, war movies were little more than propaganda films. After all, there is no entertainment in battle. As the years progressed, Hollywood learned that while real wars were not fun, people enjoyed movies about them. They still were basically recruitment advertisements, but the stories they told made people smile.

Soon, a new type of war film would be born. They still told tales about real wars, but they no longer glamorized the events. The “good guys” and “bad guys” were supposedly still the same, but it was harder to tell who the heroes and villains really were. These anti war films decided they would tell the a darker side of these stories.

Though not the first, 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the earliest examples of an anti war film. The film was a critical and commercial success and the battle scenes from the movie served as inspiration for Saving Private Ryan. Though it was released ten years before World War II, it is a powerful movie that still holds up today.

Few films are as moving as Grave of the Fireflies from 1988. This animated feature proves that some messages cross geographical boundaries. (It is also another example of a “cartoon” being able to tell a deep story a person of any age can enjoy.) Told from the the Japanese point of view, this movie details life in Japan during the closing months of WWII. It is an interesting watch on a number of levels and is impossible to forget after you have seen it.

No war in this country has been the subject of more films than Vietnam. The conflict divided the nation and resulted in much turmoil and the way the country looked at itself. It was also a topic that many storytellers could not wait to tackle. Classics like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now were released at the end of the 70s. The 80s saw even more movies questioning America’s role in Vietnam, including Born on the Fourth of July and Good Morning, Vietnam.

None were more powerful than Full Metal Jacket. Arguably the greatest anti war film ever made, this Stanley Kubrick masterpiece is a unique and beautiful work of art. Its two part structure examines institutional brainwashing and the importance of overcoming obstacles. Vietnam serves as the backdrop for a character study that is second to none. Along the way, the audience is treated to a series of scenes that showcase all sides of war. Never an outright condemnation, Full Metal Jacket tells a story that allows its audience to form their own opinions.

Today’s movies delivers more messages now than ever before. Racism, the class divide, and sexism have all been openly discussed. As new issues become relevant, Hollywood has not shied away from them. There are strong LGBTQ movies, for example. Oddly, there has been a dearth of strong anti war films. They are being made – audiences still love a good war movie – they just are not delivering the same impact as the movies of before.

What have been the best movies to speak against war in recent years? Hacksaw RidgeAn American Sniper? Both movies are award nominated, but will people remember them ten, fifteen, or fifty years from now? And why the sudden change? After almost a century of putting out strong films that denounced war, why are they now more about celebrating individuals and not examining the bigger issue?

This is not to say there is no place for movies about heroes. After all, another thing film does is provide its audiences with heartwarming stories about real people. It is more a case of a whole sub genre being subverted. The technological world of today provides more avenues for people to speak out. A cursory glance at the internet seems to show many are doing so. Maybe it is not surprising that movies have become another voice drowned out in the noise.

Near the turn of the century, many things that were common before became taboo. Questioning decisions made by the government and not showing unwavering support for the nation’s Armed Forces were not as tolerated as they had been in previous years. While the country – and the world – looks at the current administration with askance regularly, the military is still held to a golden standard which allows little more than a raised eyebrow. It may be a product of our times or an evolving of the genre, but the best anti war stories seem to have already been told.

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