The Reel Dad’s top seven exaggerated takes on war
“Jojo Rabbit” shares a fascinating point of view about what a child discovers during World War II. While the film focuses on real events and characters, its exaggerated view enables filmmaker Taika Waititi to make a commentary on war. Over the years, many exaggerated takes on war have helped us learn what it takes for truth to prevail. Here are seven of my favorites.
Doctor Strangelove (1964)
Picture yourself, for 90 minutes or so, living the possibility of the world coming to an end because people make outrageous decisions and refuse to admit their mistakes and correct their errors. Imagine a world so fragile where one person can, on a whim, signal the end of how people live. And consider the very real threat that placing powerful weapons in the wrong hands can create. This is the absurd, frightening world that Stanley Kubrick creates.
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Imagine a military leader, focused on public perception, that capturing the D-Day landing on film becomes more important than actually conducting a successful operation. Paddy Chayefsky wrote this embellished look at how absurd leaders can be; James Garner, Julie Andrews, Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn bring it beautifully life. This is an under-appreciated classic from director Arthur Hiller.
Consider, for a moment, a collection of medical professionals so determined to take care of their patients at the same time they become so horrified by the war that surrounds them. While this comedy - much sharper on film than in its later television incarnation - takes place during the Korean conflict, its timing in movie theaters, at the peak of national tension over Vietnam, made it clear it had one war on its mind.
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
Leave it to Quentin Tarantino - Oscar nominated this year for “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” - to destroy myths about World War II in this delicious comedy that could be a first cousin to “Jojo Rabbit”. In a series of self-contained sequences, Tarantino dares to ask who the heroes may actually be when plans to assassinate Nazi leaders converge. The writer/director never loses his precise focus on the central question of what makes someone right?
“Stalag 17” (1953)
Years before the television comedy “Hogan’s Heroes” poked fun at the experience of prisoner of war during World War II, this comedy from writer/director Billy Wilder dared to ask questions of what defines appropriate behavior in a POW camp. With an Oscar-winning performance from William Holden, the film makes us laugh at the same time it actually makes us wonder how people could survive such conditions.
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Who else but Robin Williams - Oscar-nominated for this performance - could urgently move from broad comedy to touching drama in this true story of a disc jockey’s experiences during war time in Southeast Asia. While director Barry Levinson lets Williams ad lib significant portions of the film, the director ensures the precision of the film’s view by balancing the funny with the tragic.
Catch 22 (1970)
While it would be impossible for any filmmaker to totally capture the nuance of Joseph Heller’s novel, director Mike Nichols almost pulled off the impossible with this captivating look at soldier’s desperate attempts to be declared unfit to continue military service. With Alan Arkin shining as the lead, the film benefits from a rich collection of supporting players, including Buck Henry (who co-wrote the script), Bob Newhart, Martin Balsam and Bob Balaban.
Yes, moviemakers love to take exaggerated looks at war. And, from their views, we can learn. Enjoy.