Darkest Hour & 9 Other Movies About the Human Cost of War – Collider

War is Hell.
Regardless of why they are fought, all wars have an unfortunate cost paid in life. Either through death or psychological trauma, soldiers who go to war don't always return. Even civilians are not safe, losing their homes and loved ones to conflicts started by those who claim to have their best interests at heart.
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Perhaps this is why wars have been portrayed in film since the beginning of cinema. Every year, new movies give audiences a glimpse into the lives of real soldiers from the past or present. The best of them are able to leave an impact and inspire reflection on these brave individuals and the society they helped shape.
During the spring of 1917, the German Army pulled back to the Hindenburg Line. Colonel Mackenzie believes they are in retreat and follows, unaware he is walking into a trap. With phone lines cut, Lance Corporals William Schofield and Tom Blake are dispatched to deliver a letter ordering Mackenzie to call off his attack and save the lives of 1,600 men, including Tom's brother.
World War I is criminally underrated in war movies, but 1917 encapsulates why it deserves more recognition. These soldiers' conditions were brutal, including muddy trenches, giant rats, and prolonged artillery bombardments. Watching Schofield and Blake navigate the waterlogged craters of no man's land and pass innumerable corpses reminds audiences why this conflict was nicknamed The War to End All Wars.
Playing fast and loose with history, Flyboys follows a group of American volunteers during World War I. They arrive in France to become pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille. Over time, they form bonds with one another and local civilians, but these bonds will be tested by the often short life of a pilot in the Great War.
Although the movie is heavily fictitious, it still has plenty to say about the cost paid in wartime. The squad is made up of people from all walks of life, including a first-generation free man and a wealthy aristocrat Ultimately, it matters not where they came from; racial prejudice and societal standing mean nothing when you're in the sky trying to avoid being shot by the enemy.
Following a series of inept attempts to appease Nazi Germany, English Prime Minister Nevil Chamberlain resigns and appoints Winston Churchill as his successor. Although Churchill strongly opposes German aggression, his history has made him many enemies in parliament and the royal family. With everybody telling him to sue for peace, Churchill must strengthen his resolve and prove that the fight isn't over.
Not many war films focus on the politics behind the conflict or the battles politicians have to go through. Gary Oldman perfectly captures Churchill's emotional state as he fights tooth and nail against the opposition. From despair at America remaining neutral to rage and grief at the mention of his failure at Gallipoli, we see how a leader miles away from the conflict still feels every loss as they fight their own war.
In 1940, the British Expeditionary Force and the French Military make a last stand at the town of Dunkirk against Nazi Germany. As the soldiers try to secure passage back to England, civilian ships are dispatched to help ferry them home, protected from the German Luftwaffe by three Supermarine Spitfires with limited fuel. It becomes a desperate race for survival as the future of England, and that of continental Europe, hangs in the balance.
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Desperation drapes over Dunkirk like a thick blanket threatening to smother everyone. It drives the soldiers into tribalism where they are willing to sacrifice a fellow soldier for not being part of their unit if it means securing freedom. Yet desperation also allows for moments of heroism, either from trained soldiers or brave civilians who risk their lives to do what is right.
Based on Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, director Francis Ford Coppola moved the story from the Congo to Vietnam for contemporary audiences. Captain Benjamin L. Willard is given unofficial orders to terminate rogue special forces Colonel Walter Kurtz, who has crossed the border into Cambodia. To do this, Willard boards a river patrol boat and heads upriver, unaware of the horrors he is about to face.
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Apocalypse Now dives into the psychological aspect of war and the effect it has on soldiers. This is surmised by Kurtz in a haunting monologue where he talks about the paradox of how soldiers are expected to have morals while also committing terrible acts against their fellow man. His resolution is that soldiers must make friends with the madness and horror surrounding them, lest it consumes them.
Taking place in the middle of the Vietnam War, the film follows James Davis, nicknamed Joker, as he goes through training to join the United States Marine Corps. Though there are complications related to fellow recruit Leonard's slow learning, Joker eventually graduates and is sent to Vietnam as a military reporter. There, his training is put to the test as he gets a front-row seat to the brutalities of war.
Though the training sections are hard on Joker, it's the sections in Vietnam when things get intense. The movie does not shy away from the carnage caused in a war where you have no idea which civilians are on your side. This is showcased perfectly when a helicopter gunner shoots at any civilian who runs, as in his mind, allies would stand still.
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Tyler B. Searle graduated with a degree in Journalism Web and Print in 2017 and Television Writing and Production in 2018. He has been a lifelong fan of storytelling, particularly in the realm of animation and fantasy stories. The Disney Renaissance is his favorite era of Disney, and his favorite non-Disney animation company is DreamWorks. When he isn’t writing lists, he’s enjoying a fantasy novel in his home in Ontario, Canada.
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