It’s A Small War After All

War Horse tells the tale of a demonic horse who curses all who cross his path for the rest of their dramatically shortened lives.

Well, not really. But you couldn’t prove otherwise.

This is one of the two Steven Spielberg movies we’ve been blessed with this holiday/award season, and it has Spielberg’s trademark subtlety.


OK, the story is that, in a moment of pride, an Irish dirt farmer gets into a stupid bidding war with his landlord in order to buy the titular, completely inappropriate horse. In doing so, he gets his farm in hock (to same landlord), and his boy falls in love with the horse. Then the war comes, and the horse gets drafted, goes AWOL, and has many adventures. Or something.

I mentioned Spielberg’s subtlety ironically, of course, but not sardonically. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with bombast even if, like Spielberg, you don’t even bother to hang a lampshade on it (which can feel a little insulting).

But this is a bizarre, bizarre movie that doesn’t move fast enough to make you (or me, rather) overlook the weirdness of it.

This movie came from the mind of someone who felt that we’re so inured to the horrors of war, we could only experience it if it were suffered by an innocent horse.

I know, right?

Especially World War I? That most wasteful, inhumane, horrific war. The Great War. The War To End All Wars? You know, the war that gave us All Quiet On The Western Front, Gallipoli, Joyeux Noel, A Very Long Engagement. Hell, even Hugo gave us the horror of war as it pertains to film.

But, no, Spielberg says you’ll only get it if it happens to a horse.

As a result, Spielberg has the horse sort of anthropomorphized sporadically. Sometimes it seems like just a horse. Other times, it’s acting noble, and saving the day, etc.

It’s a children’s story, but it’s about the horrors of war. In WWI, cavalry lines met machine gun nests for the first time—an encounter which ended the cavalry line for all history, as horses were mowed down in a horrifying slaughter. (Actually the Poles would set their cavalry against German tanks in WWII, but the less said about that, the better.)

Since this would be a nightmare to watch, Spielberg does this bizarre thing where the charging horses are somehow spared, and break through the German lines completely riderless. As if only the cavalry soldiers themselves were killed. The effect is surreal.

And yet, later, we’re treated to an extended scene of a horse being chewed up by barbed wire. I mean, you guys know me: I sat through all the Saw movies (but the last one) but this was truly horrifying.

For some reason (supporting my horse-of-the-damned theory) the last 20 minutes is shot in a kind of hellish red. I mean, clearly, the idea was that it was sunset, but they must’ve done it with computer color correction, since the scene lasted longer than any sunset south of Reykjavik could last.

The Boy’s reaction to this was “That was a long, damn movie!” He didn’t dislike it (or like it) particularly. He just thought it was long. And it is. Over 2-and-a-half hours long.

The funny thing is that there are a bunch of different strands, accounting for this length, and yet the various story resolutions seem contrived or abandoned.

However, The Flower liked it, as I suspected she would. I mean, it had horses and sadness and some happiness and some kids. She’s ten.

Thing is, I don’t know that I could call this a children’s movie. Like, the violence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom didn’t bother me—it’s cartoonish, and really didn’t deserve the hubbub (that resulted in the PG-13 rating). This movie is chock full of dead kids and horses.

I don’t regret letting her see it, and she was fine, but I think the audience for this movie is real narrow. Much older and she’d see the flaws. Much younger and she’d be traumatized.

I dunno. It gets a 7-point-something on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, though Metacritic gives it 7.2/6.0 (critic/audience). I can’t really recommend it, though, beyond that demographic of relatively sturdy tween girls.

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