Last night, at long last and having had it recommended to me many times, I sat down to watch the film To End All Wars. For those who do not know of it, it is the story of Ernest Gordon who was a captain of the Scottish Argyles during the Second World War. After escaping the Japanese at the fall of Singapore, Gordon and some fellow soldiers sailed a junk almost 2000 miles, only to be captured by Japanese. They were taken prisoner and were sent to work on the Burma-Siam Railroad (which you may know from the film Bridge of the River Kwai).
Before I continue allow me to provide a bit of a warning. I was quite surprised at the volume of swearing in this film. Usually I would not be surprised to find bad language in a war movie, but was surprised at this one primarily because the people who recommended it to me made no mention of it. Thankfully, because of the subject matter, it was not a film we decided to watch with the children present.
I will leave summaries of the content of the film to others and just mention a few brief points about my experience.
In some ways I enjoyed this movie and in others I didn’t. I enjoyed the subject matter and the deep spiritual message behind the film. The film was produced by a professed Christian and this was obvious in the overall theme of struggle with sin, redemption and forgiveness. I don’t know that anyone could watch this movie and not come away without a deep sense of the power of forgiveness and the need for redemption. Key characters grapple with their depravity not through their own actions but through the realization that they are, in reality, no better than the very people they hate. So there is a real maturity to the message – far more than we might find in other “spiritual” movies.
I was disappointed for two reasons. First, while I am not intimately familiar with the story that inspired the film, and have not read Gordon’s book by the same title, I know enough to realize that the producers deviated in several key ways. Certain characters were combined to form one and actions that ought to have been attributed to one person were attributed to another. There was also a key scene of suffering that I believe was changed substantially so as to make a more clear parallel to Christ’s sacrifice. Secondly, I found that many of the characters were shallow and underwent little development. In fact, many of the characters seemed little more than caricatures and were typecast into specific roles from which they could not deviate. Every character had his part, and while each played it well, it allowed little room for development or surprise. From all I have read the real story behind To End All Wars is inspiring and displays the best of what God can do in the lives of men and I don’t understand why the story was rewritten.
Despite those small complaints the movie was well-made and, as I have said, contain a strong, biblical message. It would be a mistake, however, to say that this is a “Christian film,” whatever that might mean. Like most films, it tells a story, and like only a few, it tells it well. But as with most in the genre of “inspired by a true story” films, I was left more interested in reading the book than watching the film. As for the swearing, I don’t know how to reconcile that with my Christian worldview. Judging by the caliber of Christian by whom this movie was recommended to me, it is not an issue even conservative, Reformed Christians feel strongly about. Yet I have difficulty recommending it on the basis of the language. I am looking forward to reading the book.