Testament of Youth
Isn’t it time we remember President Eisenhower’s warning about the military industrial complex?
Based on the autobiography of Ms. Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth is a stunning anti-war film that should have meaning to this very day. You see first hand Ms. Brittain’s experience as a young British girl engulfed by the savage consequences of WWI, and the film demonstrates that every war leaves families mourning the loss of a loved one.
The extraordinarily talented Alicia Vikander plays Ms. Brittain, and you watch her fighting social tradition as she seeks to be admitted into Oxford in 1914. In the process, she watches as her brother Edward (Taron Egerton), a close friend Colin Morgan (Victor Richardson) and the love of her young life, Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) enlist in the British Army. The boys all feel that it is the patriotic thing to do. Why wait when the war is expected to be over in five months?
Ms. Vikander gives a heartbreaking performance as the young Vera, and she builds on her superb performance earlier this year as the partial robot in the underrated Ex Machina. Here, she soon regrets convincing a reluctant father to consent to her brother’s desire to go off to war.
The profound tragedy of that first World War soon becomes evident, as the newspapers are filled daily with the names of dead young British boys. No one could possibly comprehend that close to 10,000,000 young men were to die in that military holocaust, and Vera decides to become a nurse in France in order to make some type of contribution.
This is a film where the turmoil embracing the young people in Europe escalates beyond imagination. Vera’s experience in the large outdoor grounds used as temporary hospitals in France resembles that classic scene in Atlanta as experienced by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939).
In the early months of the war, Vera occasionally is able to see her brother while becoming engaged to her increasingly tormented lover. As she finally is forced to face death on a personal level, she has to decide whether life is again worth living.
After an armistice is finally declared in 1918, she became a vocal opponent of war on all levels. She was wise enough to condemn Britain’s attempt to blame Germany, noting that they had as many mothers crying over dead sons as was happening in her homeland.
This is not an emotionally easy movie to watch, which simply reaffirms why it should be seen. Vera’s eloquent argument that alternatives exist to war should resonate with us in the 21st century, as all we really need to look at are the fruitless consequences of Vietnam and Iraq. Put another way, why not back President Obama’s attempt to establish a meaningful relationship with Iran as opposed to threatening to bomb them into the stone age?
Finally, we need to look behind the rhetoric of warmongers. For example, other than George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, name another Founding Father who fought in the Revolutionary War. In our Civil War, don’t you find it ironic that young wealthy industrialists like James Mellon, John Rockefeller, Pierpont Morgan, Jay Gould and Phillip Armour all sent substitutes to the draft armies as a way of displaying their patriotism? How many of you know that the “movie war hero” John Wayne dodged service in World War II, while Dick Cheney, the architect behind the recently fabricated Iraqi War, repeated dodged draft service during the Vietnam War?
Nearly an entire generation of young men were wiped out during WWI. Shouldn’t we exhaust all possible options before sending the next generation of working class Americans to die in battle for their country while the wealthy wave battle flags at home?