4 Stars — Inspiring
Horses are complex creatures. Similar in many ways to humans, they are competitive and loyal, stubborn and responsive, fearful and courageous, and seek love wherever it might be found. This resemblance has caused our relationship to horses to be one of companionship and compassion as we easily empathize with their reactions. Recognizing that the greatness of both a horse and a human is in the nature of their heart, Steven Spielberg’s War Horse brings both together in a heartfelt story of loyalty and love.
Set in Britain at the beginning of World War I, the film juxtaposes the inhumanity of war with the deep caring of a boy for his horse. This horse demonstrates both miraculous courage and unstoppable strength due first to his mother’s watchful care and then through a boy’s insightful instruction. Originally a children’s story, this delightful and innocent beginning is quickly brought into the harsh reality of the adult world as both financial and military struggles invade their idyllic home.
Watching him being birthed, Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) is enamored with “Joey” from his vulnerable beginning. Albert attempts to reach out to befriend this special colt only to find that he is fiercely protected by his mother’s pawing guidance. When in a moment of competitive madness Albert’s father, Ted (Peter Mullan), buys the young yearling instead of the plow-horse he needed, Albert is overjoyed. His mother, Rose (Emily Watson), is not. Knowing that this young stallion is not meant for the plow, she and the entire village see Ted’s folly and the family’s economic crisis unfold.
But it is at the moment of crisis that Albert and Joey pull together to accomplish the miraculous and their combined efforts save the family farm. This sets the stage for the ensuing action of the film.
Strength and courage come from a place of love and hope. Demonstrated early in Albert and Joey’s relationship, the coming of World War I provides further demonstration of their true characters. It also provides the opportunity for many others to recognize and admire them both.
This admiration comes in a variety of forms and allows grace and generosity to prevail. It occurs first when Albert’s mother expresses a deep understanding and compassion toward his father. This is followed by Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), who purchases Joey to be his horse in the British Calvary. It is further expressed through the love of a young French girl, Emilie (Celine Buckens), and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup) who provide a momentary sanctuary for the riderless stallion. It is even expressed through the compassionate courage of both a British and a German soldier who risk their lives to free Joey from the life-threatening grip of barbed wire in the no-man’s land on the front.
But as providence expresses itself through both Joey’s and Albert’s lives, it is their miraculous reunion in the horrors of war that brings hope. Hope resides in the courageous love that we show not only for one another but also for the animals given into our care. That we have a warring madness is a human malady. But that we have the capacity for courageous love is just as human. If we can find our way to live out that love in the face of the evil that threatens to destroy us, we may just find our way home to the idyllic sunset that greets Albert and Joey at the end of the film. It is a vision of love and peace worthy of our lives and our hearts.
» Recognizing greatness in either a horse or a human is not difficult. Why do you think that is true? Do you see greatness in yourself? In your friends and family? Why or why not?
» The providential reunion of Albert with Joey is what makes good stories and good cinema. Do you believe there is a Providence watching over your life and bringing good to you in the end? Why or why not?
» The love that Emily’s grandfather expressed for her was complete to the point that he was willing to sell his farm to buy her beloved horse. Is there anyone you love so much that you would “sell the farm” to bring that person joy?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.