Like many of Steven Spielberg’s most beloved films ‘War Horse’ comes as close to being a flawless work of art as cinematically possible. – Times of India
Like the best celluloid melodramatic classics like ‘The Good Earth’ and back home, ‘Mother India’, ‘War Horse’ is a story of human resilience during times of unspeakable stress and conflict.
The protagonist here is a horse Joey, whose journey from a humble family farm to the war-front during World War 1 is chronicled with an emotional and visual detailing that leaves nothing to chance. There is an almost painter’s diligence in the way Spielberg puts his scenes together.
A master is at work. Make no mistake about that. Spielberg puts together war scenes that capture the tumult in soaring leaps of visual grandeur.
In what’s arguably the most magnificent sequence in the film the hero-horse runs through a gauntlet of war-torn ravages, trying frantically to escape from it, eventually getting enmeshed in barbed wires where he remains trapped and inert until two soldiers from the opposite sides come forward to extricate him.
The dialogue that follows between the British and German soldiers as they cut the horse free is so stagey it reminds us that true art is not about sounding natural, but being true to the subject matter by using the language that most befits it.
The metaphor of Nature unifying the two polarities at war-time is not lost on the theme. Spielberg tells a majestic story with a flourish and flamboyance that effortlessly take cinema back to the era of the grand cinemascope experience. The emotions spill out in a torrent of picturesque images, some of them so vivid they look unreal.
What stays with us most vividly is the basic theme of courage and determination during a time of unstoppered pain and conflict.
Spielberg says in an interview, “‘War Horse’ says a lot about courage; the courage of this boy and what he endures and what he overcomes to achieve what he needs and not just for himself but also for his best friend, his horse Joey. It’s also about the courage and the tenacity of this extraordinary animal. The theme of courage kept coming back and back from the play, from Michael Morpurgo’s book and from Lee Hall and Richard Curtis’ screenplay. That was the underlying subliminal theme that I think informs every frame of ‘War Horse’. It just creates such a synergy and just a real empathic collaboration between horse and boy that when they are separated because of World War I and the horse is sent off to serve in the war as a beast of burden, the audience really knows that at some point there is going to be a date with destiny. And when that date with destiny between the boy and the horse occurs, that is a little bit of the mojo of the movie.”
Spielberg lets the horse be the true hero of the epic film. But there’s larger more imposing hero presiding over the plot. It’s destiny. Karma, if you will. In the truest and oldest tradition of Hindi cinema the horse Joey is united with his master through devices that contemporary cinema has long discarded.
Spielberg leaves no room for cynicism. He unabashedly celebrates the old-world sentiments of family ties and war-time pressures. As the horse and the film gallop to a gloriously majestic finale, your heart soars to a state of divine exhilaration. They don’t make movies like these anymore. ‘War Horse’ makes you wishes they did. If only wishes could be war horses….
Spielberg’s grand operatic film reminds us of how far away Indian cinema has moved from its roots while cinema in Hollywood still makes space for feelings and emotions our cinema has rapidly discarded to look fashionably global.
There is hope yet. And never mind if this glorious glimmer of hope comes from out West. Light in any form is nourishing.
If you watch only 3 films a year, make sure ‘War Horse’ is on your list.