Tag Archives: War Movies

The Immortal Iron List of War Films

Cinema was made to tell war stories. Theater dominated the artistic cultural landscape for three millennia, and stories of war and strife were among the most popular. Think of Shakespeare, who has an entire category of works called his “Histories,” no surprise though that nearly all of them are about war. That’s what history is, a record of conflict. The Greeks, inventors of theater, fancied war plays as well. The confounding Lysistrata, Aristophanes’ play about a woman who decides to refuse her husband sex until he stops his warring ways, has somehow found relevance today with Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, which applies the same premise to Chicago’s south side.

Theater though, could never fully capture the horrors of war, often choosing instead to focus on how war affects those who are left behind, or those who return from war broken and alone. The invention of cinema offered a chance to show war for what it really is, hell. D.W. Griffith was among the first to try this approach with his controversial masterpiece The Birth of a Nation. Though Griffith’s film suffers greatly from racist portrayals of black people, as well as idolizing the KKK, it does show the reality of war as it always deserved to be shown, as an ugly, dehumanizing nightmare.

The purpose of this list is not to posit five films as better than their war-themed counterparts, but rather to highlight films that show war honestly, and without undue glorification. Also this list is not necessarily even a list of great films; some are masterful, others simply average, but what each film says and shows about war are required viewing for discerning cinephiles.

Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain is a fine example of a decent film that contains several unmissable war scenes. The film follows a confederate soldier who abandons the war effort when victory seems all but lost. Of course this being Hollywood our hero owns no slaves, and fights only against what he sees as a conquering army approaching his quaint town of Cold Mountain. Anthony Minghella isn’t an average director though, and uses this romantic story to show some of the most horrific Civil War era scenes ever put on film. The “Turkey Shoot” scene shows how fickle war can be. Cannons bombard Southern troops, sending soldiers running for their lives. The Union Army soon gives chase, but crashes right into their own cannon-created hole, giving rightly pissed Confederate soldiers a chance to shoot them while they crush one another trying to climb the wall of mud. The scene is horrifying, and stands out for showing an honest portrayal of a conflict so often reduced to “good Union” bad “Confederates.” Continue reading The Immortal Iron List of War Films