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This is one of those movies that makes me feel sort of heartless because as everyone else in the packed theater "ooohs" and "aaaaahs" I'm seething with anger at what a bunch of idiots I'm surrounded by. Kitsch is enough to drive some people into unquestioning adoration of a scene. Kitsch isn't enough to make me ignore the fact that the underlying message of what is happening around me is entirely twisted.
That makes me at least a little ashamed for my emotions and leaves me with the conclusion that Steven Spielberg is either really twisted or has made the movie The War Horse in order to make fun of Americans. Two months back, I watched it in the theater. It was two days after Christmas, everyone around me probably had their bellies still full of food from the yuletide feasts – in that situation I'm supposed to be even more likely to like mushy movies. But I wasn't sold on this one.
For the sake of argument, I'm going to give Spielberg the benefit of the doubt and assume for the next 700 words that Spielberg made The War Horse in order to make fun of Americans. He too realized that after a decade of war, crap like this makes an American "ooh" and "aaaah."
I've never felt so bad for being a human before
At least that's what I think Spielberg was trying to make me feel. I am supposed to feel some kind of terrible collective racist guilt (as in the "human race") for the horse who is treated cruelly. All the while, people are dying in that movie. World War I is the backdrop for much of the film. You could make the argument that ultimately, a soldier chooses to go to war and ultimately a beast has no choice. However, the scene where a human fourteen-year-old deserter is shot sort of removes that theory. Shooting teenage deserters was presented by the filmmaker as less of a tear-jerker than a stupid horse running through barbed wire.
This movie desensitizes the viewer to human suffering
I felt surrounded by ninnies in this movie theater. The American government is fighting umpteen wars around the world where innocents are having ordnance dropped on them at the orders of our Commander-in-Chief, killing parents, scarring children, maiming people for life, and we are supposed to watch this "anti-war" movie that cajoles us into downplaying the loss of human life? Contrary to what Spielberg may have intended, the great collective guilt I felt sitting in that theater was not "Humans can be so cruel to animals" but instead was "How can I justify spending 2 hours watching this film instead of campaigning for Ron Paul, the single anti-war candidate, or doing something, anything in opposition to the wars." I justified it as family time, but the watching of nonsense with my family is some pretty lame family time. Time is of the essence – Ron Paul doesn't get the nomination in August, doesn't get elected in November and the U.S. will continue the wars for four more years or until the money runs out (whichever comes first).
The people who watched this movie and felt bad for the horse seemed to think nothing of the horrors of war. It's a movie that makes a fool of people for their twisted morals. Is it really possible that I sat in a packed house of 500 people and heard gasps with every threat against an animal, but heard nothing with every death of a human? This movie was filled with human misery that was intended to be entirely tangential to the story. Was Speilberg seamlessly stringing his audience along, like so many manipulative moviemakers are able to do, using techniques that only a movie maker would notice? Or, are we Americans really so freakin out of touch with the value of human life that we gasp at pain for a creature while thinking nothing of the death of another human?
Death is not sad; WWI and its successors are
Listen, death's not sad. WWI is sad. That the U.S., this last 95 years, has continued making the same mistakes of warmongering and seeking bogeymen abroad is much, much sadder. Gigantic wars fought between gigantic states controlled by sociopaths does not need to happen. Death needs to happen. One is very sad, the other happens.
The moral standard of this film
Showing kindness or cruelty for a horse is the basis for how the characters are judged morally in this film. The director intended the most emotionally evocative moment of the film to be when the horse runs through barbed wire instead of jumping over the barbed wire – a mild gasp could be heard from the audience in all directions.
In response, a British soldier defies orders by walking into no man's land to cut the horse out of the barbed wire. He intelligently waves a white flag the whole time. A German comes from the safety of his trenches to join him as both armies watch on, not firing a single shot as the two evil enemies set aside their differences to rescue this innocent horse.
"You speak good English," the British soldier informs the German.
"I speak English well," the German responds.
"Remarkable horse," one of them says.
But I don't recall anyone telling a person he's remarkable through the whole film.
"Miraculous horse," is also said about this creature, the star of the film.
Later in the film killing the injured horse to put it out of its misery drew more protests from the audience than killing a 14-year-old boy for deserting. The threatened killing of the horse was also more played up by the director than any killing of any human, the 14-year-old deserter and his brother, included.
At the end of the film, the father (who fought in the Boer Wars and is still physically and psychologically scarred a generation later) and the son (freshly home from the trenches of the "Great" War) – both of them injured for following their government into some god-awful war to kill and maim others – hug. The camera hangs over them, these wounded obedient murderers. But at least they were never cruel to an animal. The screen goes black.
The audience clapped at the end.
Then the words "Steven Spielberg" appeared on the screen, and everyone began moving as the house lights came up.
"That was a good story," I heard someone say.
"A Christmas story," responded another.
Peace on earth good will toward men?