Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

This past week, I Netflixed "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp," an incredible British film about war, human nature, and growing old (yeah, it tackles some kinda big subjects) from the legendary team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger. The film is easily one of the most compassionate films I have ever seen. It follows four decades in the life of General Clive "Sugar" Candy, who starts out a low-ranking officer and climbs the ranks by being classy and brave (in that order). Clive is the kind of military officer who will engage in a duel with a foreign officer, injure the other officer badly, and then spend months playing bridge with the fellow while they both heal up. He fights wars to win them, convinced that right will always prevail, and abhors the idea of mistreating prisoners. In Sugar Candy's army, prisoners of war are treated to symphonies and tennis matches and POW camps look more like resorts.

That is, until about halfway through the film. Following World War I, and the rise of Nazism, Candy starts to see something changing in his fellow officers. Men who he knew and trusted to be kind to foreign POWs are becoming brutal, employing the tactics used by their enemies. Candy's friends in the armed forces say that this is a new kind of war, and that right and wrong are no longer clearly distinguishable. When Candy stands up against this idea, he faces a fight unlike the ones that he is accustomed to: a fight for decency, even when employing decency may mean losing the war. It's a goddamned great film about the birth of modern warfare, and the evolution of the "Us VS. Them" mentality that makes things like Gitmo possible.

But the real emotional heart of the film is the love story that runs alongside the war story. It's maybe one of the most poignant little vignettes about what happens when you don't follow your heart that I have ever seen in my life. I can honestly say that when this film ended after nearly three hours, I felt that wonderful, lightheaded feeling you get when someone you love and trust gives you a little piece of advice that, in the moment it takes to be dispensed, changes the way you see everything. This is one of my favorite films now. Hell, it may just be my favorite film ever made. Do yourself a favor. Seriously.

Some links:
The IMDB page.
Roger Ebert's review, where he rightly calls the film "full of miracles."


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