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




Saziah Bashir: 4 things you should do following the Christchurch terror attack
103634 2019-03-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

Saziah Bashir: 4 things you should do following th…

by Saziah Bashir

What can we do? Where to from here? People have to recognise the Muslim community is grieving.

Read more
Captain Marvel is a rare movie in Marvel Cinematic Universe
103595 2019-03-19 00:00:00Z Movies

Captain Marvel is a rare movie in Marvel Cinematic…

by Russell Baillie

Starring Brie Larson as lead superheroine​, Captain Marvel actually gets better as it goes on.

Read more
Why Bill Cunningham was a rare creature in fashion
103319 2019-03-19 00:00:00Z Books

Why Bill Cunningham was a rare creature in fashion…

by Linda Herrick

Affable fashionista Bill Cunningham takes readers behind the scenes in the world of haute couture.

Read more
Four must-read books to counter Islamophobia
103636 2019-03-19 00:00:00Z Books

Four must-read books to counter Islamophobia

by Jenny Nicholls

An introduction to the writers who will help you see through toxic misinformation about Islam.

Read more
Measles outbreak: Fears virus could become endemic again
103624 2019-03-19 00:00:00Z Health

Measles outbreak: Fears virus could become endemic…

by RNZ

ESR public health physician Jill Sherwood said history showed the uptake of vaccinations would decide whether measles would once again get a foothold.

Read more
Could a tropical sea cucumber hold the key to treating cancer?
103622 2019-03-19 00:00:00Z Health

Could a tropical sea cucumber hold the key to trea…

by Sharon Stephenson

A search for new anti-cancer treatments led chemistry specialist Taitusi Taufa to the warm waters of his birthplace in Tonga.

Read more
Dîner en Blanc: What is it and why does everyone secretly want to go?
103618 2019-03-19 00:00:00Z Dining

Dîner en Blanc: What is it and why does everyone s…

by Alex Blackwood

For the last five years, thousands of Aucklanders have also donned their best whites, converging at a secret location to drink and dine in style.

Read more
New Symonds Street bar Save Ferris is a tribute to arcade games
103593 2019-03-19 00:00:00Z Auckland Eats

New Symonds Street bar Save Ferris is a tribute to…

by Alex Blackwood

Save Ferris is an ode to the past.

Read more