THE TFR STAFF DISCUSS THE SCENES FROM WAR CINEMA THAT HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON THEM
German soldiers comandeer Sam’s piano and proceed to hammer out a rendition (to the disapproving audience of Rick’s Cafe) of a German patriotic song, Die Wacht en Rhein. Upon discovering this, Victor Lazlo (Paul Reinhard) requests the house band to play the French National Anthem in retaliation and in honour of Occupied France. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) gives the nod. Within an instant, all the supressed cafe-patrons leap from their seats to join Lazlo in a breath-taking performance of an already awe-inspiring anthem. Fists are raised. Tears are shed. Germans are drowned out and put in their place.
This scene never fails to induce goosebumps and demonstrates how not all of the battles are fought on the frontline. What the people lacked in artillery, they made up in something the oppressive hand of war can never stifle: National Pride
Come and See
Finding a particularly striking scene in Idi i smotri (Come and See) is a difficult task. The film, a harrowing depiction of the Nazi occupation of the Byellorussian SSR, is a catalogue of horrifying imagery, unflinching brutality, and unimaginable suffering. Yet in spite of this it is the final scene, offering a moment of poignant consideration, which remains the most memorable and impactful.
Flyora, a child soldier who over the course of the film has had every vestige of his humanity stripped away, comes across a framed portrait of Adolf Hitler. He begins furiously unloading his rifle into the picture as, with every bang, the scene cuts to archived footage of the war and Nazi Germany, playing in reverse. Crumbled buildings rise from the earth, parachuting soldiers return to their planes, and marching Nazis retreat over the streets of Berlin. It is only when the footage reels backwards in time to a photograph of Adolf Hitler as a child sitting on his mother’s lap that Flyora is unable to shoot. This beautiful scene captures the irreversible devastation of the Nazi invasion of Russia, the horror of the violence it inspired, and the monstrous all-consuming hatred which such conflicts generate. That hesitation in Fyodor’s eyes, eyes which have seen such incomparable horrors, is the only light of hope that is offered.
The Hurt Locker
Who’d have a thought a wall of cereal boxes could leave a macho, gung-ho soldier so befuddled? Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winning The Hurt Locker takes the audience deep into a war torn Iraq with Bravo Company’s Bomb Disposal Unit. Every decision made by adrenaline junkie Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner) has only two outcomes: life or death. Yet while James remains cool with seconds left on the clock, as soon as his tour is complete he is perplexed by the complexities of... grocery shopping. There are simply too many choices.
The supermarket scene expertly conveys the psychological difficulties soldiers face when transitioning back in to home life. The routine tasks of civilian living have become alien to the action James is now accustomed too. The camera makes the aisles feel endless and James is alone in the midst of all that we non soldiers take for granted. The choices he makes now are so pedestrian and meaningless, picking the wrong cereal may leave him with a sour taste in his mouth but it is a mere speck in comparison to what him and his comrades faced. It doesn’t take long before James is lured back into the high of the battle.
The phrase ‘harrowing scene of war’ usually conjures up pictures of horrifying wounds and women crying over their murdered children. However, I find that the final scene of Schindler’s List conveys the gut-wrenching and painful reality of war without spilling a single drop of blood.
The real life people whom Oskar Schindler saved during the Holocaust walk up to his grave paired with the actors who portrayed them. They each place a rock on his headstone while the film’s melancholy refrain fills the background. As the stones pile up on Schindler’s grave, one is reminded not only of the many lives he saved, but also the incredible number of Jews who were not so fortunate. While the scene does not take place during the war, it portrays how those traumatic memories remain with victims of conflict for the rest of their lives. Reminders of those tormenting years haunt both soldiers and civilians long after peace treaties have been signed and bodies buried, whether through PTSD or tortured memories of loved ones lost. The final scene of Schindler’s List solemnly portrays this sad, undeniable truth with a clarity and gravity that is not easily forgotten.
Paths of Glory
It is a cold-hearted individual who does not shed a tear on viewing the final scene of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Paths of Glory’ Set during the First World War, the film as a whole focuses on an idealistic French Colonel, Dax (played by Kirk Douglas) and his defence of his men, three of whom are to be executed as an example following a display of cowardice at the front line. By the film’s ending our brave colonel has become completely disillusioned with the army leadership and the whole business of war in general.
The final scene has Dax watching on as inside a tavern his men are entertained by the singing voice of a young German woman. The maiden’s initial treatment by the soldiers is semi-misogynistic, and is no doubt induced by the inter-European xenophobia caused by the Great War. But then the men desist in their hounding and listen to the woman’s song. Slowly they join in. Not being able to speak German they hum along to the tune and an emotional atmosphere of common humanity pervades the scene thereafter. The soldiers had begun the scene as animals but end it as thoroughly decent men whose initial barbarity was attributional rather than dispositional – to use the language of psychology – and in this lies the film’s greatest condemnation of war. Not the injustice nor the killing but the turning of good people into bad.
The Killing Fields
This moment comes from the under-seen and under-appreciated The Killing Fields, from director Roland Joffé. The film charts the true story of two journalists, American Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and Cambodian Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) during the onset of the Cambodian civil war. Choosing to stay in the capital after the invasion of the Pol Pot led Khmer Rouge, both Schanberg and Pran are arrested. Although Schanberg is sent back to America, Pran is forced to endure the harsh new regime, taking part in Cambodia’s Year Zero policy of forced propagandistic re-education and working in labour camps. After numerous escape attempts, Pran is finally successful following an attack on his prison.
The memorable scene in question involves Pran reaching safety at the border of Thailand. Haing S. Ngor justly won an Academy award for his turn as Pran in his first acting role. At the end of a long journey Pran spots a red cross camp in the distance, signaling safety. Joffé lets the camera linger on Ngor’s face for a number of seconds. The actor, a Cambodian himself was a victim of the Kmher Rouge regime, which adds to the power and authenticity of his performance. In this one shot, Ngor communicates a sense of grief from the terrible things he has seen, but most importantly relief from the realization that his struggle has come to an end. Pran’s performance elevates this moment to one of the most emotionally effecting in film history.