1917 (2019)
January 11, 2020 4:03 PM - Subscribe

At the height of the First World War, two young British soldiers, Schofield and Blake are given a seemingly impossible mission. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers—Blake's own brother among them.

Directed by Sam Mendes, who won the Golden Globe. Cinematography by Roger Deakins. Starring George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman.
posted by Huffy Puffy (31 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Did I read correctly that this movie is supposed to (at least appear to be) one unbroken take?
posted by Brocktoon at 6:06 PM on January 11, 2020

Yes you did, and it’s amazing. It’s kind of disorienting early on, because you’re not used to a scene with dialog where they don’t cut back and forth. Plus there’s lots of walking.

I may wind up with this in Ask: what would’ve been in the bags hanging in the empty German bunker?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:16 PM on January 11, 2020

Actually, there is already a related Ask: Why hang food in bags (Movie: 1917)
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:41 PM on January 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

Very surreal, very enjoyable. The single-take style meant the field of view was doing a lot of work and there were more than a few scenes where the entire setting and mood changed as the camera swung from one direction to another. There was also some interesting time and space compression even in the first fifteen minutes: moving from one end of the trenches to the other revealed news about character deaths that hadn't yet traveled back up the chain of command. I’m not under the impression this was a real oner, so I’m curious if it was filmed in a location that actually has all these biomes in such close proximity and rapid succession?
posted by migurski at 10:26 PM on January 11, 2020

It was filmed in a number of takes that were spliced together.

I was going to start a thread for this after getting back from seeing it the other day, but couldn't find anything sensible to say, as I was stunned. Cinematically, it's a coup. While on the one hand it's definitely respectful to the WWI stories it's based on (I think a lot of these things happened, but not to the same person on the same day), on the other the points of comparison that have come to me are a lot less elevated: As they had just gone over the top, I had that "Are you sure this is a good idea?" feeling I used to get on fairground rides when I still used to do them; The intermittent cameos by very famous actors makes me think of those museums where actors would occasionally pop up in character pretending to be people from history (The BFI's Museum of the Moving Image used to be like that - I used to sneak through it trying to remain undetected lest I be subjected to interactivity). But all that came later.

However, the film is stunning - I wasn't sure what to expect, but was aware there were whole sequences where my eyes were popping and my mouth hanging open.

I don't know whether it would be a good idea to parse it too finely for technical historical accuracy - I'm sure there will be complaints about the racial diversity of the troops from the Usual Suspects (though the British army was more diverse than I think they're willing to recognise), but I'd thought that each regiment was drawn from a particular area - so the York regiment would come from Yorkshire, the Devonshires from Devon and so forth - which on the one hand meant that whole families of young men could be destroyed in a single day, and on the other that the central pretext of the film (Blake driven to deliver a message so that his brother wouldn't be killed) wouldn't be possible, and certainly that the blending of accents and types shown in the film wouldn't happen. But I'm probably wrong in that.

However, as someone who was born at a time such that my understanding of the war was shaped by The Donkeys and Oh, What a Lovely War!, at a time when the younger participants in the war would still have been in their seventies and eighties, the film does seem to have a lot of fidelity to the spirit of the memories that those people brought with them from the war. At the same time, the representation moves on from the story I grew up with (which will be a long time dying, as everyone loves to hate the upper classes) - the officers shown here aren't the distant, complacent toffs of the popular imagination, but men simultaneously driven and constrained by their commitment - we think MacKenzie will be consumed with vanity and ego, but when it comes to it he's simply taking what he thinks will be an opportunity to bring the war to an end.

I'd highly recommend seeing it at an IMAX cinema if possible.
posted by Grangousier at 5:43 AM on January 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

Hadn't known really anything about this film aside from the obvious, I was unprepared for the surreality of it. It's really more of a mythological tale set in the trenches. I especially liked the night scene in the village and how the buildings seemed substantial and yet dreamily indistinct, like an out of focus old photo. The way time is compressed and some people stand out as individuals who appear out of nowhere and interact in a significant way and others as just sort of a menacing enemy racing toward you... I've had a lot of dreams like that.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:08 PM on January 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Technical achievement and attention to (some) details aside, I was disappointed. The whole premise was extremely unlikely, the characters flat and undeveloped and there was just too much nonsense to take any of it more seriously than an elaborate video game run-through: an entire army disappearing undetected in a matter of hours; the booby trap blast strong enough to destroy a vast bunker complex (in a conveniently sequential fashion) but merely daze the tommy standing two feet away from it; the fresh, abandoned pail of milk and the crashing plane (& couldn't one of those Sopwith Camels have just *dropped* this vital message to the Devonshires?); the village completely built-up around a single maze-like street, lit up with flares for no apparent reason and hiding beneath it a solitary, beautiful Frenchwoman; the wild whitewater river and huge waterfall arising from the flat chalk fields of northern France; the fresh-faced, bright-eyed and clean shaven boys looking more like a magazine spread than soldiers who'd spent any length of time living in the carnage and brutality of trench warfare; oh yeah, and the accents. The only way I can make any sense of it comes from the post-script, a dedication to an elder Mendes, who 'told us the stories', because the film really does come across as a sequence of fantastical war stories, but if that's the case it should be made clear, rather than presenting the film as a historical document of WWI. Anyway, I do wonder now about the legitimacy of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
posted by Flashman at 1:19 PM on January 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

I didn't get the sense that it was trying to be a historical document of the war, but it did feel very Hero's Journey 101, so much so that I was confused when Tom accepts the mission immediately. The hero is supposed to be hesitant, deny that he is the Chosen One -- but then take up the mantle anyway. Of course, the hero isn't really who we think it is; that little switch was the best part of the movie for me.

I thought for sure the fresh pail of milk was going to be a trap of some sort. The farmhouse looked as if it had been abandoned long before, and yet someone comes by and milks the cow (that's still hanging around) and helpfully leaves the pail out for passing strays? Sure.

In some ways, this movie recalls the Lord of the Rings -- important mission! lots of walking! -- but the village and the rapids/waterfall felt extremely fake in comparison to those movies made 20 years ago.
posted by basalganglia at 3:09 PM on January 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Didn’t plan to see it until I heard it was filmed one shot style. Picked an IMAX and it was quite immersive with an appropriately wrapped sound field, done Birdman-style. This goes a bit more into the inspiration for the story.

As for the fresh milk pail; it seems obvious someone was hiding nearby and never came out that we saw, just as if nearly any sufficient hidey hole in the village would have turned up a refugee or two.

Cow has to be milked twice a day.
posted by tilde at 5:55 PM on January 12, 2020 [7 favorites]

The single-take style meant the field of view was doing a lot of work and there were more than a few scenes where the entire setting and mood changed as the camera swung from one direction to another.

Film editing is a pretty cool trick, though. You can do the thing above as appropriate in long, unbroken shots and still create an edited story rather than a one-shot narrative. I dunno -- I'm reading with interest because I didn't get much out of the one-shot gimmick until the climactic scene (which is pretty great) and am curious what other people get out of it.

Pedantic observation, by the way: the film is actually shot as if completed in two long, unbroken shots. (There's a cut to black partway through, inside the tower with the sniper; the picture comes back several seconds later, but after some longer amount of time has passed.)
posted by Mothlight at 11:40 AM on January 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

just as if nearly any sufficient hidey hole in the village would have turned up a refugee or two.

Good grief why would anybody have stayed there when there was tranquility and relative safety just a few miles away?
posted by Flashman at 3:43 PM on January 13, 2020

That’s ..... not how war works.
posted by tilde at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2020 [14 favorites]

Oh, thank you! It was something I'd heard about (probably Somme-related? That would be a pretty good reason to abandon it) but didn't know the details.

[I] am curious what other people get out of [the unbroken shot]

On the one hand, what I found was that because there weren't any cuts, there was a constant building of tension - I hadn't realised before how cutting breaks into the stream of perception. Also, because normal cinema uses the ability to cut between things to impose your attention on them - close up of hand, wide shot of landscape - and that wasn't available here, there were many points where what one was supposed to see wasn't immediately obvious, things were constantly being revealed rather than pointed at directly, and subjects of interest emerged out of what the camera was seeing more generally. I found that this elicited a feeling like curiosity in me - I had to keep watching to see what happened next (this wasn't a constant, but came and went). My only points of reference were Russian Ark (which engendered a very similar response, though at a much more sedate pace) and Birdman (which I don't remember having any specific response of this kind to, which is one of the reasons I went in without too much in the way of expectation from it). It's possible the IMAX screening and aspect ratio might have had something to do with this as well.
posted by Grangousier at 12:23 PM on January 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

I understand the criticism of it being like a video game, but my attention was held and I found the faux single take to be a smart choice here and not just a stunt. I think I have a dread of single take or real time because I always think it's going to drag, and this sure did not drag. It was ambitious filmmaking for sure, and I keep thinking of that first image of the burning village.

And this may have just been my mood at the time of viewing, but I thought they did a pretty good job of showing that Schofield was cynical about the war and something of a pacifist without really beating you over the head about it. That thing about the medal being traded could have been drawn out, but his choice to run instead of shoot (the vast majority of the time) made the point more real for me.

Vulture had a good article about the technical aspects - minutiae like the costume designer making the helmets 8% larger so they wouldn't appear comical, the delayed dismantling of the farmhouse because some birds decided it was a pretty good farmhouse, the 450 extras and 50 stuntpeople herding them in the charge scene. Wow.
posted by queensissy at 10:00 AM on January 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

I’m curious if it was filmed in a location that actually has all these biomes in such close proximity and rapid succession?

IMDB currently lists all the filming locations as in England or Scotland, so if you count that as close enough...

Besides the accents the other thing I wondered about was having a lance corporal and a lieutenant in the same family. Would that be very likely?
posted by biffa at 4:56 PM on January 18, 2020

The only effect shot that took me out of it, was the jump off the bridge. The camera tracks him too tightly, and it just looks wrong. Other than that it was a technical tour-de-force actually used in benefit of the narrative. I think I love this movie, except that I'm still recovering from the effect of watching it.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 3:01 PM on January 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

The film's very ambitious narrative style was what interested me most. People have compared the style to that of a video game - but really it is more like riding a ghost train - or experiencing something like Disney's original "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride. Except that Mendes would like the ride to last a couple of hours while telling a story, building character and conveying history. The ark of the narrative created then had to be created and populated in largely contiguous physical spaces - including large spans of excavated trenches. The audience knows nothing about the characters at the start - or as new ones appear. They have no idea what is going to happen. The fact that they manage to pull of these tricks is remarkable.

The way that the film holds attention and manipulates the sense of time, is also interesting. I had a tub of popcorn at the start which was largely uneaten by the end. Equally the 2 hours duration felt like much more.

Given all this, I'm willing to forgive the film its many plot weaknesses and historical unfaithfulness: instead take not of what it does succeed in teaching: an idea of what it would have felt like to live in or attack from the trenches after several years of war, how soldiers could become completely used to dealing with situations of taking wedding rings from dead comrades or knocking away rats.

A shout out to Tomas Newman's soundtrack. It, together with the great supporting cast, does a great deal in terms of making everything come together.
posted by rongorongo at 2:03 AM on January 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

I found it to be an intense and gorgeous movie, and I was mostly on board with the whole thing. Riiiight up until the flare-lit town filled with stormtroopers. At that point my "come on, really?" senses started blaring and never stopped.
posted by graventy at 1:38 PM on January 22, 2020

I thought it was a gorgeous, classic epic, and I will be disappointed if it doesn't win Best Picture.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:53 AM on February 3, 2020

Breathtaking. Not a perfect picture (I haaaated the cameos), but immersive and impressive. Must be seen on a big screen.
posted by gryphonlover at 10:20 PM on February 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Must be seen on a big screen.
Exactly why we went to an IMAX since we were near one. We have a lovely TV at home, but ... damn.
posted by tilde at 4:20 PM on February 12, 2020

Count me as extremely impressed. I was worried that the single shot would feel gimmicky, but as you see a few people pass across the foreground blocking the shot by early on, it feels like the filmmakers are saying, "this isn't a find-the-cut game, we're not trying to trick you, relax".
posted by condour75 at 7:47 PM on February 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Mostly enjoyed it. Pretty gimmicky. Became frowny at the German pilot’s behavior, which struck me as ahistorical for several reasons, not least of which jumping two Camels in an Albatross at 500 feet. The man may have been mad, one supposes.

The nighttime sequence in the village appeared to me to be partially inspired a nighttime sequence in the third act of the truly amazing, absolutely grim, mostly unknown Les Croix du Bois, available from Criterion. The film is different from better known WW1 films such as All is Quiet on the Western Front, Paths of Glory, and Les Regles du Jeu in that it is fundamentally not opposed to ideals of sacrifice in the service of the state, or of religion, in my reading. That made viewing the film challenging, for me, because I found myself arguing with it as I watched it.

However, there are multiple ambitious effects sequences that are hair-raising, as the effects seen on screen are practical, in camera effects, and you can see the actors flinching in fear from the blasts around them. If you are interested in cinematic and time-motion media representations of WW1, as I am, you will find the film worthwhile.
posted by mwhybark at 12:23 AM on February 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

An update: I took my 13 year old daughter last night. She was holding her breath the whole time! She said it is her new favorite movie.
posted by gryphonlover at 9:42 AM on February 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

The only time the single shot thing bothered me was when the camera was backing down a trench in front of the two soldiers who were walking in the same direction. It was a little disorienting.

I was much more irritated by reviews that complained about the single-shot gimmick instead of talking about the movie on its own merits.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:51 PM on February 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

in the third act of the truly amazing, absolutely grim, mostly unknown Les Croix du Bois, available from Criterion.

I just watched Les Croix du Bois based on this comment. It's an amazing movie for 1932 especially. I don't quite get your reading out of it.. it's so grim. For a film coming from the country that was invaded it's remarkably cynical and denying any glory of war. "The war could go on a hundred years and the movie theaters would still be full." I did not think that it was showing fields of crosses and superimposed dead soldiers marching heavenward out of any kind of praise. Maybe I didn't watch close enough to pick up what you picked up on. Not that it's subtle (DIX JOURS!!!!).

Re: 1917, it was entertaining and impressive sometimes, but also pretty simplistic in its worldview. I mean it's better than Warhorse but not a ton different. Kind of a boys' magazine feel to it. The shot of the ruined village lit by flares and fire was jaw-dropping, that was like pure terrifying beauty being squirted into my eyeballs.
posted by fleacircus at 12:07 AM on November 28, 2020

Just watched this. The line, "some men just want the fight," really stuck out to me in a war movie that is not much of a war movie.

Kind of a boys' magazine feel to it.

One of the things I really liked was the handful of times they spelled out the youth of the soldiers. In the truck and at the very end especially, they look like high school kids, and some of the people they passed in the trenches were like 20 year-old old timers.

The one thing where Mendes really got me was with homie's hand. Right from the beginning he cuts it on rusty blood-soaked barbed wire, drags it through dirty crater water, punches it through the body of a dead soldier...Chekhov's laceration, right? In the first 15 minutes I'm like "that's definitely going to be a problem!" but alas.
posted by rhizome at 11:44 AM on December 1, 2020

How 1917 edits without cutting. Some nice examples from the film. I particularly like the notion that the producers had to excavate trenches who length was determined by the section of dialogue that the actors were going to say as they walked along it. Want to add in a line our two? - you're going to have to break out the JCB and the pit props.
posted by rongorongo at 12:32 AM on December 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Im waaaay late to this party, but want to give my $0.02. More like a dollar, really.

I was really impressed with this movie, it's fantastic, especially for someone as obsessed with long takes as I am.

There are edits, but they’re so well done that I think most people wouldn’t notice. Unlike a nerd like me who watched with eagle eyes for any possible cut. It was always done with the camera trucking or panning across something in the foreground, allowing for a smooth edit point. Some are more seamlessly done than others, and there’s actually quite a lot of them. Some shots are “only” about 5 minutes long or so.

And it’s Deakins. Roger Deakins has the Midas touch and makes every movie he DPs a gem. It’s hypnotic, gorgeous cinematography, and the long takes just accentuate that.

I agree with many of you about, basically, suspension of disbelief. The movie asks a lot from the audience. For me it was this sort of shrinking of the land these men have to cross in essentially two hours’ time. For all the walking and running, the goal destination is actually not that far away, and around every corner are convenient farmhouses, bombed out cities, even whole armies. The CGI when he jumps in the river is a bit janky. BUT. I was fine with all this; that’s what suspension of disbelief is for, and I happily employed it to the hilt.

After watching I had to look up how they made it, and there’s no shortage of YouTube clips on the topic. The locations and sets? All built/made from scratch. During pre-production, Sam Mendes took the actors out to barren fields and had them read the lines, the walk-and-talks. Based on how long it took them to say those lines, they measured the distance and built the sets accordingly. This is mind-blowing to me, that the sets were based on dialogue; I can’t imagine any other movie having done this.

And that was all of it, the farmhouse, the bombed out village, the mile of trenches they dug—all of it was made from scratch. Just an epic production.

I watched it all on my so-so 32 inch TV, and once I find an excuse to splurge for a 4K I’ll be watching it again.
posted by zardoz at 4:14 PM on September 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

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