They Shall Not Grow Old
Directed by Peter Jackson
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.”
~ From “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon
To be able to peer through a looking glass, to see the past as it was while presenting stories that modern audiences might not have ever seen, is an amazing idea. Peter Jackson, who may be more familiar to audiences for his ground breaking work on “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies now brings us an exemplary look at World War I with his 3D documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old.”
Culled from over 600 hours of interviews from the BCC and the IWM as well as 100 hours of original film, Jackson immerses his audience in experiences rather than a traditional narrative guiding an audience through the story. This allows Jackson to tell a narrative of the innocence of young, brave men who wanted to see action. There was a sense of pride, especially from the men who were younger than the draft age.
There was a sense of community as well. For the voiceovers, Jackson used the recorded interviews of those who were present at this point in history. Many of the recollections painted a picture of defiance when parents would try to hold their children back: “I want to serve!” they claimed. And when they presented themselves to join, the military staff even tried to turn them away. Alas, they needed all the young, able-bodied men they could get their hands on.
Innocence rules the day as these men start their training as the military machine pushed these eager beavers to their limits and beyond. Once, trained, they are marshalled off to the battlefields of France where the German military was entrenched. It is here where Jackson switches from a series of still photos to a re-creation of the experiences on the battlefield with the continued interviews as narration.
The mood of the film changes, but the esprit de corps remains. There’s a lot of laughter and fond remembrances as the men settle in to squalid conditions, sharing stories of their memories of the events. The combination of the sound design, the visuals and the interviews really serve to put you in the middle of the action, to immerse you in their experience, something you’re unlikely to see elsewhere.
Of the many aspects of the film that I liked, the fact that we are not force-fed locations or dates; we are allowed to share in this experience as it unfolds for us, as it would have for these men, who simply followed orders. In this regard, it is rather a haunting experience, seeing events that I had only read about as a kid.
Innocence is a theme as the soldiers repatriate. They find that their own sacrifice is met with distaste. War changes not only those who serve, but those who stay behind as well because the involvement is one-sided; those who stay behind get their updates from the news and think that the experiences of the men coming home, of those who survived can’t be used in day to day work activities. It was a sobering reality that thankfully, didn’t repeat itself during World War II as much because everyone was involved.
“They Shall Not Grow Old” is a history lesson come to life. It isn’t clouded by either side’s reasoning for battling one another. It is a tale in morality and of sacrifice, something the world needs a good dose of today. The technical achievement alone is worthy of your time.
After a series of successful screening events over the last two months, They Shall Not Grow Old opens in theatres on Friday, February 1st.
3.75 out of 4