“The film that should have won Best Picture..?”
directed by Sam Mendes
(Potential spoilers ahead)
Another one-shot film, but this time set in World War I, 1917 is a 2019 war movie, directed by Skyfall director Sam Mendes (always confusing him with Shawn Mendes), and starring Dean-Charles Chapman and George McKay as Lance Corporal Blake and Schofield. It follows the story of two soldiers fighting against time as they desperately endeavor to deliver a message that’ll potentially save the lives of sixteen hundred men. Losing to “Parasite” in three categories, including Best Picture, this film had undoubtedly experienced defeat. But should it have won? My answer is…
Recently, I’ve been studying World War I during my World History classes at school, and surprisingly, it’s pretty damn fun. That, paired with all the praise this film has been receiving, got me extremely hyped to watch it. However, with the outbreak of COVID-19 preventing me from stepping out of my own home, I couldn’t watch this movie until 26 days after its release in South Korea. And until then, my excitement for this film continued to gnaw away at me, until that one day where I was given an opportunity to go see a film in theaters. So I took the risk of coughing myself to death and went to see this film.
Despite this film’s abundance of remarkable characteristics, such as its cinematography, score, and production design, I’d like to discuss its most preeminent quality: Its one-shot.
This is my second one-shot film of all time, the first being Birdman or (the unexpected virtues of ignorance). In my belief, they both utilize this attribute in such a way as to maintain incessant tension throughout the entire film. The moment the two soldiers step out onto No Man’s Land, it is perpetual tension, with the viewers not given the opportunity to let out a breath of relief until the very end of the film. The soldiers are always a step away from peril, and the viewers can’t help but feel the same way. But 1917’s one-shot does so much more than tension. It’s not simply there to act as a metaphor for the unceasing terror of war. It exists to enhance the viewer’s experience. To elaborate, the one-shot makes audience members feel as if they are a part of the film. This is not a two-man quest. As the film refuses to cut away and as the camera utilizes interesting techniques and maneuvers to make it seem as if there is no camera present, the viewers are left feeling as if they are walking through the various exquisite yet petrifying set pieces with Blake and Schofield. It even almost feels like a video game, especially when the camera is set on the backside of the protagonists.
The feeling of being part of the film only adds to the overall realism. As mentioned before, the tension is increased to its apex and the fact that the film makes you feel as if you are in the scene with the two soldiers greatly contributes to helping the viewers in recognizing the dangers of war. In a particular scene when the duo are meandering around an underground German barrack (those who have viewed it will most likely remember), a rat drops from the ceiling, and sets of a tripwire rigged to an explosive. The explosive went off in a thunderous blast that startled the literal shit out of me, consequently leading to me leaping at least 75% out of my seat (luckily no one else was in the theater apart from my dad…). But the pure fact that the one-shot immerses the viewer in such a way as to pound their adrenaline and feel concerned about his/her danger from a threat that is separated by a visible screen is astounding.
Now, there have been certain cohorts that assert that the prime reason the one-shot has been integrated into this film was for ‘oscar bait.’ To me, that’s completely preposterous. Would this film have been nominated for Best Picture if it wasn’t one continuous shot? Absolutely not. But that’s the wrong question to ask. The real question people should ask is: “Did this film had to be presented in this format?” And my answer to that question is, absolutely not. This film could have been shot with the number of cuts present in a Marvel fight scene and it would have still been a war movie. But (and I apologize for the excessive number of questions) would this film had maintained its identity? In my opinion, 1917’s identity is defined by its one-shot. It is distinguished from all other war movies due to its one-shot. But the reason why the one-shot differentiates this film from others is simple. It’s been the argument I’ve been making the whole time. And I believe that a single Letterbox review perfectly sums it up: “1917 isn’t just a movie. It’s an experience.”
Finally, I’d like to elaborate on my answer to why this film should have won Best Picture instead of Parasite. But to make it clear, I have no grudge against Parasite winning. It was a remarkable satire that tackled class warfare in an innovative way. I wouldn’t surprise myself if I deemed it a masterpiece. And a foreign film winning Best Picture, let alone one from South Korea, my birthplace, is a huge win and something that potentially restored the audience’s faith in the Oscars.
However, from a technical standpoint, 1917 absolutely crushes Parasite. The one-take, although a form of art practiced multiple times before, still seems novel to me, even after viewing Birdman. 1917 doesn’t do anything special with its story and doesn’t attempt to tackle contemporary issues. After all, its a War Film. But to me, that’s completely ok. The simple narrative was easy to follow and it left me satisfied when the film ended, unlike Parasite (of course Parasite’s main intention was to keep the viewers unsatisfied which it completely nailed).
In the end, however, this is all my opinion. Parasite completely deserved to win Best Picture and I have nothing against that. But the pure fact that 1917 was a cinematic experience, sways me to believe that it should have been the prime candidate for receiving the Academy’s Best Picture Award.