To End All Wars: my response to the film

Last night I watched the film, “To End All Wars” (2001). “A true story about four Allied POW’s who endure harsh treatment from their Japanese captors during World War II while being forced to build a railroad through the Burmese jungle. Ultimately they find true freedom by forgiving their enemies. Based on the true story of Ernest Gordon” (IMDB summary).

This isn’t the type of movie I’d typically watch by myself…late at night. It was recommended by a friend and eventually assigned to me as homework by that same friend in a class he is teaching. I ordered it from Amazon, – because if it is as good as he says I’d probably want to own it – received it in the mail yesterday, and watched it before the day was over. To say it was good would be a gross understatement.

There are certainly parts of the film that are hard to handle; violence, murder, gross human rights violations, religious imagery that is usually glossed over in Sunday school, and abject pain and suffering. Had I not watched with an “academic” eye, I believe I would have been moved to tears and possibly rendered unable to finish watching it at all. It did move me. I wasn’t totally without feeling but I could certainly see the potential for an utter breakdown on my part if I’d allowed myself to be personally and emotionally engrossed, as I tend to be when watching a film or reading a book.

One thing I tend to notice most is character development and the characters that I sympathize with and feel strongly toward are the one’s who grow the most in the course of the story. For instance, watching Pippin (LOTR) grow from a flighty boy to a military leader. I saw so much of that growth in this film. I saw changed hearts and minds in several directions, both positive and negative but all with a unified theme of mercy, redemption, grace and what happens to a life when it is devoid of those things.

One character went from what I first thought to be a supporting actor role to male lead over the course of the film. I figured out later that this character was the person who told his real life story in the book from which this film was based. He’s also the narrator of the film. His character went from loyal follower and supporter of his military leaders to the voice of reason and one of the catalysts that created social, spiritual, ethical, and moral change throughout the whole camp. Watching this film, I watched a naïve boy become a strong, principled man through some of the ghastliest of circumstances.

In kind, I saw an arrogant, selfish American become a loving man who made a selfless act at great personal cost; a military leader go from a great leader desiring the best for his men to a hardened and bitter man who made dangerous choices out of hate over and over again only to be shown mercy and Godly love over and over again; an entire camp of men seek wisdom and hope against all odds and do the unthinkable respectfully for captors who couldn’t believe their eyes; and I saw captors humbled and changed from seeing the unthinkable.

The unthinkable in human behavior and thought was only possible because of the supernatural strength coming from people who were enduring unimaginable treatment and sacrifice. I can’t help but wonder if I would be so hopeful in similar circumstances, if I would be able to be optimistic and selfless. I’d like to think that I would give my ration of food to someone who was in greater need; that I would make the tough choices to serve others in the face of persecution and possible death. This film was definitely one of the best and most thought provoking I’ve seen in a long time.

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