They Shall Not Grow Old: Review

They Shall Not Grow Old
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Jackson’s innovative approach may not appeal to everyone. Eschewing traditional talking heads and dramatized scenes common in modern documentaries, he opted for a different route. He compiled extensive footage from the First World War, digitally restoring and colorizing it to provide an unprecedentedly authentic depiction of military life.

Accordingly, the film doesn’t showcase the riveting battle sequences that directors like Spielberg and Nolan have presented in their fictional accounts. Instead, it illuminates the mundane horrors of war—constantly wet shoes, appalling sanitation conditions, and the soul-crushing futility of warfare. Jackson aimed to honor the everyday soldiers, not the decorated generals; young men swayed by propaganda and idealism, rather than political machinations and strategic movements across the European map. In this regard, the film is beyond reproach.

The documentary begins with a 20-minute episode focusing on eager young men who enlist without a second thought. After a black-and-white introduction, the film transitions to color, plunging us into the heart of Jackson’s vision. From hours of edited footage, a 100-minute feature has been meticulously crafted to portray the war’s authenticity. High-quality audio and video technology is crucial for the viewing experience, much like how “Dunkirk” is best appreciated on a suitable screen. This point is especially important since the film is unlikely to be screened in regular cinemas.

Soldiers’ recollections, recorded by British museums in the 1960s, provide a constant audio backdrop. These accounts highlight an inherent issue—namely, the fading and psychological trivialization of memories over time. This results in somewhat banal commentary, which unfortunately downplays the significance of the soldiers’ sacrifices. However, for the discerning viewer, this is understandable.

Despite these limitations, the documentary is a powerful work. The loss of illusions it describes resonates with the “lost generation,” as already depicted in the literature of Ernest Hemingway and Erich Maria Remarque. Jackson’s film offers a new medium for understanding this era and would make an invaluable educational resource for schools.

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