Screen Heroes: A Look into Two Legendary War Films

Throughout history, humans have gone to war with each other in attempts to obtain power, resources, and money.

Throughout history, humans have gone to war with each other in attempts to obtain power, resources, and money. Artists, inspired to share messages about the negative impacts of war on society and people, have created pieces using many different mediums. The most renowned pieces of art inspired by war range from oil paintings made in the 1770s to 21st century pop art and graffiti. However, movies have emerged as a prominent source of visual expression for directors in their efforts to depict the grave circumstances of war and its impact on civilian life.

The tragedy of World War II has been a popular topic for film directors. Schindler’s List, a classic WWII movie, has a particularly powerful impact on its viewers. The movie, screened on February 4, 1994, was filmed in black and white. Although few mainstream movies have been shot in black and white after the 1960s, director Steven Speilberg has used the outdated appearance to his advantage. In the film, the monochrome creates suspense and a somber atmosphere. Oskar Schindler, a businessman, employs Jewish people to work at his factory in an attempt to profit from the war. However, when Jews from the Krakow Ghetto were starting to be exterminated by the Schutzstaffel, Schindler arranged for the protection of his workers. In doing so, he saved 1,200 Jews from facing the ultimate death sentence.

In the movie, the only hint of color is a little girl wearing her red coat, and she provides a strong contrast to the dark color palate that dominates the rest of the film. She represents the six million innocent Jews slaughtered during the war and how each of them had a personality, dreams, a life, and a family. When Schindler sees the little girl, he starts to see each victim as an individual. He is consequently faced with the reality that he is partially responsible for the horror of Jewish life during the Holocaust. The little girl’s red coat marks a major turning point in the film as well. Schindler’s List obtains its visual impact through quiet iconography such as the lighting of candles and the slow drifting of smoke compact with monochromatic photography.

Hacksaw Ridge, screened in 2016, is a more recent representation of World War II from the perspective of the Pacific Theater. Personally, it remains one of the most vivid and detailed war movies I have ever seen. Inspired by the story of private Desmond T. Doss, a devout Christian who refused to bear arms during the Battle of Okinawa, the film details how Doss was initially ostracized by fellow soldiers for being a conscientious objector; however, after risking his life to evacuate 75 men from the battlefield, he was respected and adored for his bravery, receiving the Medal of Honor for his service. Scenes highlighting the bloodshed, rains of bullets, and the intense post-battle social atmosphere were truly unforgettable. Special effects were accurately used with creating bullet hits, blood splatter, and smoke elements. From an artistic perspective, the movie’s modern cinematography and camera angles blend beautifully with clothing and speech habits of the 1940’s. Winning two Academy Awards in both “Film Editing” and “Sound Editing and Sound Mixing,” the film is created in a way that makes the events appear as if they could be played out in the 21st century. According to Trish Cahill, the Australian colorist who worked on creating Hacksaw Ridge, the color palette of the movie was inspired by vintage photographs referencing old barns, train yards, and uniformed soldiers. “I find when you minimize the color palette and let the contrast and light do the tonal work it can take you to a unique and emotionally amplified place” Cahill said.

Although significantly different from each other, both movies depict the gruesome nature of war and the suffering of civilians. They are sure recommendations for anyone interested in history and war movies in addition to brilliant cinematography.

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