I have very mixed feelings about films that are portrayed as “anti-war” because I find most of them are not truly anti-war or are very ambiguous about how war is portrayed. I also have this strong ambiguity about still photographs that portray the hell that war is. For instance, the vast majority of combat photographs out of the American war in Vietnam are either neutral on the war or portray the war’s brutality without offering the viewer some options and ideas of how to halt war.
I will be developing this theme as I post more war photography that is considered iconic, asking transparently whether it is anti-war photography or war porn.
But back to movies, here is a web site that links more titles than I would list: http://www.criticalconcern.com/movie-conscience.htm
Here are ten movies that I would definitely consider anti-war films.
* The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin. (Although I am not convinced satire really motivates the uninspired to stop war, this is a great and serious comedy about Hitler and National Socialism.)
* War Hunt by Denis Sanders (director). (While this is the first movie appearance of a very young Robert Redford, what is haunting about this film, set during the Korean War, is the behavior of actor John Saxon, who portrays a soldier who sneaks behind enemy lines every night to murder. It is a dark and frightful and true side of war.)
* Oh, What a Lovely War, directed by Richard Attenborough. (The more you know of the official and unofficial history of WWI–for instance, military leadership was atrocious and murderous–the more meaningful you will find this movie. Again, satire and humor are used, but don’t allow that technique to distance you from the horror and inhumanity of WWI.)
* A Very Long Engagement, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou. (A heart rendering story of a young woman (Tautou) who refuses to believe that here fiance was killed in the Battle of the Somme. She spends her life waiting and believing he will return. A true anti-war film of what war death does to the living.)
* Paths of Glory, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas. (Set in the French Army in WWI, it is a tragic story of French soldiers executed by French generals because the military unit led by the officer played by Douglas failed to take a military objective and were decreed cowards. The three men executed were selected at random to die. An amazing story of how “orders” are more important than human life.)
* The Conscientious Objector, a documentary film by Terry L. Benedict. (Based on a true story, this film is about a man who refused to carry a weapon in war, but served as a medic. It’s a very ambiguous story, because to a radical CO, even assisting in war is a violation of ethics. A film worth watching.)
* Let There Be Light, a documentary film by John Huston. (An amazing piece of film–authorized by the post-WWII U.S. Army of 75 men suffering from psychosomatic disabilities, what we now call PTSD, that required their hospitalization.)
* Flame and Citron, a film by Ole Christian Madsen. (Set in Copenhagen in 1944, the film is a story of two idealistic anti-Nazi resistance fighters. You get to like them very much and then you get to watch them die. That is what war is.)
* Born on the Fourth of July, an Oliver Stone film. (Even though I am not a fan of Tom Cruise, ,this has to be one of the classic Vietnam-era anti-war films. I still think Ron Kovic’s stunning book is better than the movie. I read it again earlier this year and it still brought tears to my eyes.)
* My Lai. a PBS documentary. (This too is a must-see film that, just like Born on the Fourth of July, cannot be interpreted as anything but an anti-war film. But My Lai was not an isolated incident in the American war in Vietnam. Don’t take my word for it. Read Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves, based on military investigations accidentally discovered by Turse in the National Archives.)