Any filmgoer worth his salt knows the characteristics of a Spielberg film — the extraordinariness of the circumstances, the indulgently stylized cinematography, the optimism of the conclusion.
Spielberg's latest film, the equine epic "War Horse," registers as yet another breathtaking (if not slightly formulaic) chapter in the Spielberg textbook, but why fix what isn't broken?
"War Horse" begins in Devonshire with Albert Naracott, a farm boy who forms an immediate and unswerving bond with the titular, high-spirited thoroughbred Joey against an idyllic environment of golden hues and endless fields.
Despite the pastoral nature of the first act, all is not well in Devonshire — not only is the Naracott tenement farm threatened by the family's inability to pay the rent, but Albert and his father suffer from a relationship made tempestuous by the father's traumatizing experiences in the Boer War. After Joey is sold by Albert's father to the English army at the outbreak of World War I, the film chronicles not only Joey's journey through the hands of participants on all sides of the war, but Albert's journey as a soldier attempting to make his way back to Joey.
Throughout the course of the film, multiple characters claim, "The war has taken everything from everyone."
While some scenes showcase the brutality and horror of a gruesome and regrettable installment in history, others showcase the incredible altruism and unexpected tenderness borne of wartime.
"War Horse" questions what Spielberg so often questions: The momentous and mesmerizing relationship between man and beast, between the human and the nonhuman, between good and evil.
The film's true triumph lies neither in its pastoral beginning nor its sweeping middle, but in its heartfelt, emotionally fraught climax and resolution. Say what you will about Spielberg's penchant for sentimentality, but there exists something incredibly poignant in the scene in which a crowd of soldiers parts like the Red Sea in order to allow Joey and a temporarily blinded Albert to gingerly approach one another for a heartfelt reunion on a snowy night.
The film's greatest scene is its last and it left the vast majority of moviegoers in my theater sobbing into their popcorn: A lone horse and rider return from war, both of them silhouetted against a horizon dappled with a reddish, effulgent sunset. Albert dismounts for a tearful reunion with his parents as Joey gazes pensively into the dusk.
The fraught subject matter and the red light in which characters move like shadow puppets lend themselves to a return to the rolling idylls of before, but such an interpretation suggests that the war has been forgotten.
Bathed in bloody light, Albert shakes his father's hand as honorable music swells, permitting the son to at last understand the battle scars of the father. His return marks the transition from boyhood to manhood and begs a compelling question — can one ever truly go home again after the horrifying and transformative experience of war?
"War Horse" is a textbook Spielberg film and with that caveat comes a measure of the characteristic sentimentality so often denounced by film critics. Dripping in romanticism and optimism as the film is, is it so wrong to be willingly swept away by the grandeur of a story where the emotions are wholehearted and forthright?
"War Horse" is a throwback to a manner of storytelling that seems to have fallen away from contemporary cinematic popularity, a kind of storytelling characterized by honesty and sincerity, by straightforwardness and truth, by holding the human heart, in all of its infinite perfection and imperfection, up to the mirror for examination.
In an increasingly gritty world, is it so wrong to want to be moved?
— Westenfeld is a freshmen from Fort Wayne majoring in English literature and creative writing.