To the editors:
I’m more than a little disappointed with Jonathan Rosenbaum’s recent review [November 13] of Hope and Glory–disappointed because of how much I’ve liked and admired his other reviews. I particularly applauded his slashing exposure of Fatal Attraction, and I’ve enjoyed the way his mini-reviews bring out the social aspects of film rather than focusing on a narrow aesthetic.
But now Hope and Glory. . . . I enjoyed the film too. I laughed at the kids blowing raspberries through their gas masks. I felt akin to the various members of this British wartime family, I was touched by the events of their lives, and, yes, I even chuckled at the “sweet and harmless” sexism that pops up here and there. But by the end of the film I felt totally had–there I was, lapping up a paean to war. Not only is a world war acceptable but it’s rather exciting (especially for kids). It solidifies the family and makes the banal heroic. Sex, love, nature–everything takes on an aura that peacetime denies it.
But, but–it will be objected–this wasn’t war in general. This was World War II (the Good War). Now I do question whether World War II was as much a war of Good (us) against Evil (them) as we’re taught to believe, but in any case I’m not a pacifist–what I’m raising is the question of the social and political meaning of a glorification of war (especially “the good war”) at this particular time in history–at a time when, for instance, U.S. warships bloat the Persian Gulf. Of course the glorification here is very indirect. But what are the subliminal messages of this British charmer? That we did it before and found soulful satisfaction–why not give it another go?
Hope and Glory hands us World War II as an act of God, to be dealt with in similar fashion to an earthquake or tornado: accept, make do, rise to the challenge. Maybe the owners of Columbia Pictures hope we all get the message in preparation for war with Iran, war with the Soviets–World War III. But perhaps many millions more of us are going to reject that scenario.
Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:
Far from disagreeing with the pseudonymous Ms. LaFemme’s point, I would like to amplify it. One drawback to regular reviewing is that it usually precludes second thoughts; as luck would have it, the recent experience of reading J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun–without taking into account Spielberg’s film, which I hadn’t yet seen–retrospectively made me realize that the major conceit that makes Boorman’s Hope and Glory possible is the virtual absence of corpses. The kind of wartime fun for a little boy that Boorman seems interested in depicting seems largely predicated on this conspicuous absence. Ballard’s novel, I should add, depicts a slightly older child’s adjustment to the same war in and around Shanghai, and while this boy experiences a certain amount of “fun” on his own, the implications are considerably darker.