Journey's End shows life and death in the trenches from a soldier’s-eye view

by James Robins / 08 November, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Journey's End movie review

WWI drama Journey’s End might be a new film from an old play, but it’s a timely reminder about the futility of the conflict.

The play Journey’s End, written by ex-soldier RC Sherriff, was first performed in 1928. Together with Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front released the same year, and the earlier trench poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, it formed the basis for our modern understanding of the First World War: an unholy and barbaric waste of life.

In many ways, the war’s depiction in Journey’s End has almost become a cliché to us: shell-shock, horror, endless mud, bad food, the jocularity of the common soldier, the condescension of higher-ups and their brazen disregard for humanity.

It is set on the Western Front over four tense days in March 1918.  Four days out of four years. Despair has crept into the bones of company commander Stanhope (Sam Claflin), a broken man soothing his fear with booze and leaning on second-in-command Osborne (Paul Bettany), better known as “Uncle” – a perfect encapsulation of his tolerance and tenderness.

They both look with pity on newcomer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) who has requested placement in Stanhope’s company because they were at school together. Raleigh is green, fresh from training. Or perhaps the more apt word is white. Pale white. The face of eager youth not yet corrupted. It reminds them of what they once were, and how far they’ve fallen.

For these men it is not so much apocalypse now as apocalypse soon: a German assault is expected – 1918’s gratuitous Spring Offensive. The dread is in the waiting and not dying, wondering when they might. An eerie soundtrack of slow, ominous glissandos (by Natalie Holt and Hildur Guðnadóttir) only adds to the sense of impending catastrophe.

As in the stage version, the story is mostly confined to the claustrophobic, low-lit officers’ dugout. And like Jean Renoir’s 1937 masterpiece La Grande Illusion, it is a war film with barely any combat. When it does come, more effort is spent on anxious preparations: in an excruciatingly heart-breaking scene, one character uses what might be his last few minutes on earth preparing a comrade for the bloody carnage ahead, for inevitable loss. Here, performances come to the fore, particularly Claflin, who has never done anything better, and Bettany, whose wan smile carries so much sadness.

Whether these themes are clichés or not doesn’t matter. Whether we’ve seen it all before counts for little. In this emotionally punishing adaptation of Journey’s End the visceral futility of the war is felt afresh. It’s a necessary feeling to have as we pass the centenary of the Armistice, for the sake of remembrance.

Video: Zero Media




Brexit: What does it mean for NZ trade?
101342 2019-01-17 11:06:05Z Economy

Brexit: What does it mean for NZ trade?

by RNZ

Brexit: Theresa May survives no-confidence vote but what does that mean for NZ trade?

Read more
How the unleashed power of technology has radically changed U.S ideals
101292 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z World

How the unleashed power of technology has radicall…

by Anthony Byrt

These Truths is a noble attempt to counter the collective attention-deficit syndrome Zuckerberg and his pals have created in all of us.

Read more
Tiny Ruins gives us reasons to be cheerful on new album Olympic Girls
Catherine Lacey's Certain American States is America as black comedy
101259 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z Books

Catherine Lacey's Certain American States is Ameri…

by Charlotte Grimshaw

It's a matter of taste, the degree to which readers can tolerate the harshness of these stories.

Read more
Dopesick: A humanising look at America's opioid epidemic
101276 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z Books

Dopesick: A humanising look at America's opioid ep…

by Russell Brown

Drug companies have a lot to answer for in regard to America’s opioid crisis, as Beth Macy's new book Dopesick reveals.

Read more
The psychological problems with trigger warnings
101153 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z Psychology

The psychological problems with trigger warnings

by Marc Wilson

The suggestion that you’re about to be exposed to something unpleasant can actually make it worse.

Read more
Why the SPCA aren't completely wrong about 1080 poison
101325 2019-01-17 00:00:00Z Planet

Why the SPCA aren't completely wrong about 1080 po…

by The Listener

In its advocacy against 1080 poison, the SPCA has fallen out of step with this country’s conservation priorities, but they have a point.

Read more
'If NZ stopped importing fabric and clothing, we’d be fine'
101236 2019-01-16 09:00:15Z Planet

'If NZ stopped importing fabric and clothing, we’d…

by RNZ

Christchurch designer Steven Junil says clothing, once considered precious, has now become disposable.

Read more