Information for Parents
Common Sense Media says Iffy for 13+
Classic anti-war epic tells dire, exhausting tale.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this anti-war epic from the 1930s digs into the physical, psychological, and emotional damage that war wreaks on soldiers in great detail. Soldiers are wounded and die, sometimes in agony, sometimes in a bloody mess, and sometimes slow and painfully. The war scenes are graphic, but don't compare in gruesomeness to more modern fare, and there's something about watching the black-and-white movie with old-fashioned characters that lessens the impact of the violence. That said, it's still intense and not for kids, though older teens can probably handle it. The soldiers occasionally talk about women and allude to sex. In one scene, several soldiers bring food to French women in exchange for (offscreen) intimacy.
- Families can talk about war. What beliefs do family members hold about military service, war, and the defense of one's country? Have family members been involved in wars -- either in the military or protesting against war? What stories have you heard from family or others about war?
- Talk about propaganda films, or movies that have a strong viewpoint, like this one. What cinematic elements in this movie help convince the audience of its viewpoint?
- Does the lack of gory, bloody, in-your-face violence lessen the impact? Why or why not?
The good stuff
Positive messages: The overwhelming message is that war for war's sake is wrong. It damages the lives of young men beyond what most people can understand. The film shows how propaganda and patriotism are used to romanticize war and argues for a more realistic understanding of fighting. The film depicts post-traumatic stress disorder way before there was a name for it, and shows men crying, frightened, and under enormous stress, which is unusual for a movie of this time.
Positive role models: Almost all the men are depicted as innocents with good intentions who find themselves in horrible situations. The main characters look after their friends, respect their superiors (except for one particularly bad one, who they hijack and spank when he's drunk).
What to watch for
Violence: Brutal war violence throughout -- and that's the point. In one scene a soldier has stabbed an enemy soldier and then regrets the act as the man slowly dies lying in a trench next to him. He begs forgiveness, promising to take care of the man's family, all while sobbing with guilt, fear, and grief.
Sexy stuff: Occasionally the soldiers (all male) discuss women longingly -- in one scene several men look at a poster of a woman and talk about her body and how they'd like to date her. In another scene, several men meet a few French woman and exchange food for offscreen sex.
Language: Occasional "hell" and "damn." Lots of yelling at others, sometimes insultingly -- like calling another soldier a "yellow rat."
Drinking, drugs and smoking: Several scenes with drinking, sometimes to severe drunkenness. These scenes almost always serve to illustrate the darkness of the war, and rarely look enjoyable. Occasional smoking of pipes, cigars, and cigarettes.