Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Cinematic World Without World War II

The other night I was watching Casablanca, and I realized that the entire conflict which puts the plot in motion was World War II. I then got to thinking about how many films deal with WWII and how many movies use the events and after effects of the Second World War as a plot point. Even this past weekend, there was a big-budget production that dealt specifically with the war. Which begs the question:

What films would not exist if World War II never happened?

That's a double negative, I know, but I'm just suggesting that the Second World War has influenced a large number of films in Hollywood and without this "inspiration" a lot of plot lines and screenplays wouldn't have existed. Yes, a world without WWII would have prevented the awful Pearl Harbor movie by Michael Bay, but it would have also cut out a number of critically acclaimed and cherished films.

Since listing all the movies that would be missing in this alternate reality would create an insanely long post, I've decided to order them in 7 different film categories:

1. Actual World War II

The first to go would be the films that actually deal with soldiers in the war and show the battle lines - the movies where the war is a prominent or primary part of the plot. This is a pretty obvious, category, I know, but I'll try to get a little more obscure as we go on.

Other examples: Sands of Iwo Jima, Saints and Soldiers, The Bridge on the River Kwai

2. Dealing with Nazis

Next on the chopping block would be the films that don't specifically show the war, but they still deal with the participants. Without WW2, we would lose a large chunk of movies where the hero is fighting the Nazis. If you need a bad guy in a movie, the traditional Nazi is the way to go. If your antagonist is a goose-stepper, then you have someone the audience automatically hates without having to delve into any of that annoying character development. In fact, I'd venture to say that Nazis are the only group of people in America who can be destroyed in a movie and no one in the audience will cry political incorrectness.

Other examples: Hellboy, Went the Day Well?, American History X

3. Dealing with the Holocaust

There is some overlap with this category and the previous one, but these would be the sympathetic films that deal more with the suffering of the Jewish people rather than fighting against the Nazi soldiers. These are the films that tug at your heartstrings and bring the horrors of concentration camps into your living room. Hollywood has made a number of these films to help us not forget how low humanity can sink if left unchecked.

Other examples: Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful, Everything is Illuminated

4. Vietnam

"But, The Former 786," you may say, "This is a completely different war!" Trust me, I know that, but I was discussing this post with a friend of mine who is an expert in the way of history and he informed me that the Vietnam War is actually a result of France losing control of French Indochina after being conquered by the Nazis. -- Maybe some sort of conflict around Vietnam would have occurred regardless of WW2's aftermath, but it wouldn't have been the same -- and Oliver Stone would be out of a job.

Other examples: Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Forrest Gump

5. Russian Power and the Cold War

Yup, this category of films would be altered as well. As my historically inclined friend also explained to me, "The Cold War may have happened, but certainly not in the same way. The US was not involved in international intervention before the war, and the Soviet Union claimed Eastern Europe after the war - which started fears of a communist takeover of the world. It also allowed Stalin to consolidate power. The US and the Soviet Union becoming the remaining superpowers is, in fact, a direct result of the war." No Russian fears = no Russian arch enemies in American movies. This would eliminate a number of films from the 80s and would almost completely destroy the James Bond franchise.

Other examples: The Hunt for Red October, Spies Like Us, Rocky IV

6. The Nuclear Option

Speaking generally, pretty much any film that involves a nuclear threat and/or detonation owes a debt of gratitude to the Second World War. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the whole world changed - suddenly there was a way to destroy people en masse. In the history of warfare, only two nuclear weapons have been detonated offensively, both during World War II. Since the bomb and the use thereof come from the war, fear of nuclear destruction is also a result of the war. -->

Other examples: Grave of the Fireflies, WarGames, Terminator 2

7. Miscellaneous WWII

The children in both the above movie and Bedknobs and Broomsticks are displaced because of the events of the war. Another faithful reader mentioned to me that it is generally accepted that Film Noir is a direct result of the Second World War - the films that began the genre almost always focus on a World War II veteran who doesn't know how to reassimilate. Plus, B-movies, in general, were developed as cost-saving measures to keep Hollywood churning and profiting even during times of WW2 rationing. This war is everywhere in Hollywood, I tell ya!

So, there ya go. Now, keep in mind, this is an alternate reality, so my speculation is just as good as yours. However, it makes you wonder what the film industry would be like if it wasn't for World War II. It's probable that other events would have inspired screenwriters and other wars could have taken the place of the current ones in film, but I just thought it was interesting that one war among so many could make such an impression on the big screen. I mean, click here and see a massive list of films that deal with WWII!

So, in answer to the question "War, what is it good for?" I'd say it's pretty good for the box office.


--jeff * said...

love the post, and love the excellent lists of example movies offered.

as bart simpson says in an epilogue in the first season, "there are no good wars, with the following exceptions: the american revolution, world war II, and the star wars trilogy."

this post made me miss talking movies with you at the library security desk.

i may post again, once i go through the links.

Lobbie said...

Where is The Thin Red Line?
Got overlooked by Private Ryan unfortunately.

The Former 786 said...

Lobbie, I couldn't possibly list all of the films in each category, but rest assured it would be in the first one.

I still need to see that movie. . .

Hilti said...

Great post! Interesting concept. There really are a lot of films that came to mind when I started thinking about it. I wonder if we were to categorize "events" or maybe even "people" in history, which would have the most movies relating.