[Ed. note: This is the first installment of Annie Provencher's new column for BreakPoint. The first two paragraphs below explain her column's title, "Through the Window." --GRD]
“The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” -- C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Lord Jesus, Let us look at the circumstances of our lives, the moments that fill our days, and the things that surround us as we look through a window: with our hearts set on seeing what is real and knowing what is true.
War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg, is the tale of a boy and his horse . . . or perhaps more aptly put, a horse and his boy.
It is not the first of its kind, following in the steps of stories such as Black Beauty and The Black Stallion, just to name a few. However, while it joins their ranks, War Horse stands tall on its own as a visually rich and well-crafted film with a pure message and powerful themes.
Set in the English countryside on the eve of World War I, War Horse is the story of young Albert Narracott, whose deep tenacity is masked by a sincere countenance and faithful nature. His father, a struggling tenant farmer with a lame leg and a broken spirit, foolishly buys a skittish colt instead of a reliable workhorse. Already mesmerized by the animal, Albert promises to train him to work the fields and help keep the farm from being repossessed. He names the beautiful animal Joey; their friendship is fast and true.
Despite Albert’s determination, the family is still not able to meet their debts and, as the military marches into town enlisting volunteers, his father sells Joey to the cavalry. Too young to enlist himself, Albert is forced to watch his dear Joey taken off to war.
It is here that Joey’s own journey truly begins. Time and time again, even as he changes hands between friend and foe, he proves himself a being of courage, strength, and selflessness. Is that too much to say about a horse—a mere animal? Perhaps . . . but I don’t think so. It is certainly not too much to say about young Albert, who joins the infantry and travels to the trenches of France in hopes of finding his friend. It is here that his own character is revealed and further refined, as he struggles to survive and serve as is required.
So is it Albert who taught the young and skittish Joey how to work diligently and help others? Or is it Joey who helped Albert step out in courage, inspiring him to persevere in the midst of hardship and life-threatening trials? Just as with the almost human-like friendships that exist in other films about horses and their beloved masters, and just as with the deepest and truest relationships in our own lives, I believe it is both.
Based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse is a beautiful and compelling film on many fronts. The themes and character traits I’ve described make it easy to sympathize with Albert and the other characters that meet Joey. What’s more, it’s almost impossible not to believe the beautiful animal himself has a soul.
At a glance, a list of such themes could sound trite. One might even assume a movie about a horse and his boy to be nothing but schmaltzy. But, amidst the smoky trenches, barren wastelands, and violent, futile fighting of World War I, the grave necessity for such convictions to take hold and become actualized in the hearts and minds of men becomes profoundly clear.
As both Albert and Joey journey to maturity, the trials each experiences, while painful and vicious, don’t harden their hearts. Rather, these things cause them to walk with greater resolution, their purposeful steps deeply and permanently marked with the weight of life, their virtues hard-won. The movie leaves us wishing that such conviction would take hold and become actualized in all our hearts—a powerful message for a pure and simple story about a horse and his boy. Indeed, it’s a thought worth pondering long after the credits roll.
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