Cautions: inappropriate language, violence and intensity, and some ethical confusion
War Horse explores both the lighter and the grimmer realities of WWI from the perspective of a Thoroughbred as he changes hands among the various nationalities involved. War Horse is a visually and emotionally appealing movie, though the story and dialogue do range from the original to the predictable, and the horse’s plight occasionally distracts from the human danger and death toll.
2011 | Steven Spielberg | 146 min Watch Trailer
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Violence and Intensity
The battle sequences include: British cavalry charging unmounted German soldiers and slashing necks and backs with sabers; machine gun fire; trench warfare with explosions and gas attacks; and quite a bit of infantry charging and shooting. Dead men and horses are shown strewn on the battlefields.
There are several “personal” deaths, most of them just off screen. Two young deserters are executed by firing squad. Poison gas envelops a frightened soldier and kills him. There are some emotionally intense segments, and a couple of potentially intense startle moments.
Horses are seen being worked to death hauling canons, and being shot both in battle and when their strength gives out. A galloping horse gets caught in barbed wire, is thrown completely on its back, and remains tangled in the wire for some time.
Some Ethical Confusion
War Horse occasionally blurs the distinction between the value of human life and the value of a good horse. The scenes involving the deaths and near-deaths of horses are made to be more emotionally intense than the scenes of human deaths. The main (human) character, Albert, is much more saddened by the potential loss of his horse Joey than he is over the actual death of a fellow Englishman. Albert also puts his life at great risk to save his horse, and another British soldier later disobeys military orders in order to help a horse. There are a number of stray comments referring to Joey the horse as being one of the soldiers.
Albert strongly believes that Joey belongs to him, because he put in the work to train him, even though Albert’s father was the one who sacrificed the financial resources and had legal ownership. Albert’s (briefly mentioned) belief is not outright socialism, but it leans a bit toward it.
Joey is later taken in by an older man and his granddaughter, who display some brief family conflict. The girl challenges and disobeys her grandfather’s authority multiple times. Albert’s unsubmissive mother refers to her husband as a “fool” (an accurate description) and gives him an ultimatum about what he can do with the horse, and for how long. She also implies that she has a love/hate relationship with her husband. A married woman threatens a neighbor man with knitting needles.
British and German soldiers come together between hostilities to rescue a horse, and display a form of camaraderie that, while not inappropriately highlighting the humanity of the soldiers on both sides, obscures the religiopolitical reasons each side had for killing the other.
There are a few references to luck and to lying. In two different instances, young people between twelve and fourteen briefly mention attractions to people of the opposite sex.
Some of the British and German characters smoke cigarettes and have drinks. The main (human) character’s father is said to regularly drink to excess, but his alcoholism is portrayed negatively. His wife implies that he drinks because of having seen too much in a previous war.*