I am in a men’s book club.1 This book club is called “Muskrat.” The first rule of Muskrat is that you don’t talk about Muskrat.2 The second rule of Muskrat is that you don’t have to actually read the book. Muskrat members are the type of guys who just want to get together, drink beer (and bourbon), and talk shit. Having actually read the monthly book selection is not a prerequisite for putting your opinion out on the table. Muskrat members know that they are told to shut the fuck up whether they read the book or not, so why bother with actually reading the book. The rules3 are pretty loose like the conversation.
In the spirit of Muskrat,4 I want to discuss the new Spielberg movie War Horse. The gist of the movie5 has something to do with an English horse owned by an English boy, and how this horse is drafted (no pun intended) into military service during World War I. Adventures ensue and the boy and horse are reunited. Credits roll, audiences cry and feel good.
The handful of people I know (and trust with movie opinions) that have seen the movie really liked it. Words like awesome, epic, sweeping, blubbering,6 and the such are used in the midst of their reviews. My sister gives a well-written review of it. Needless to say, I will eventually see this movie, but it will be against my better judgement.7
I have nothing against DreamWorks or Steven Spielberg movies in general. What I have issue with is movies that depict war in a beautiful8 and grandeur-like way that usually end up glamorizing war; movies made from children’s books usually suck;9 children’s books about war doesn’t seem like a good thing.10
As far as I can tell, war is not beautiful, grand, or sweeping. War can be an epic, especially if the war lasts for years. War causes tons of tears, so the “blubbering” descriptions seem accurate. World War I was neither beautiful or grand. At the very beginning, the original WWI belligerents did march off to war imagining grand victories. The trenches and mud of all the fronts quickly dispelled any fantasies of war’s beauty. There was a reason WWI was called “The Great War.”11
Children’s books adapted for the screen should be for children and their parents, or at a minimum, for adults who fondly remember reading the book. The Narnia Chronicles fall into this category.12 Children’s books about war that are in turn made into movies seem to fail.13 The author usually had some point or message to deliver that gets lost in the movie adaptation. War movies from children’s books shouldn’t be made for kids, thus the movie (to reach an actual paying audience) is made for adults. What usually results from this bastardization is a movie that depicts war in an innocent child-like manner but shown to adults. Yes it’s fiction, yes it’s entertainment, but in the end a lot of War Horse viewers are going to think they have seen a realistic version of the hell WWI was. This is also the result of the collective memories of WWI being pretty much absent in today’s society. Now we are all going to think WWI was like this movie.
I imagine there is a reason authors feel the need to describe the hell we call war to kids. However, I am not sure if any of them are truly successful. It is truly criminal when a children’s book about war ends up glamorizing it. If an adult wants their child to learn about war head to your nearest senior citizen center and have a war veteran describe, in detail, their experiences.14 If you trust a children’s book author to accurately inform your kids on something as life-changing as war is… you are a bad parent.
I won’t even go into the movie’s theme of using a horse, a fucking animal, as a vehicle15 to discuss war and the relationships. I’m going to see this movie, and I may even enjoy it. I just hope I don’t really like it or call it beautiful. I know better.16
1. Book clubs aren’t just for sexless old women and nerds (who are pretty much sexless too).
2. Obviously, I just broke a Muskrat rule.
3. The only other Muskrat rules are: the book has to be written by a man (we are sexists that way), and if the book is fiction… the book’s main character has to be male (again, we are sexists that way).
4. In other words, I haven’t seen the movie.
5. Everything that follows is pure speculation.
6. Not sure if I personally like movies that cause me to blubber… but I get their point. The movie really, really, moved them to tears.
7. I really don’t have a “better” judgement, but I do have a judgement.
8. “Beautifully rendered” is actually how I have heard this movie described.
9. Yes, War Horse is a children’s book adaptation. It is based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel of the same name.
10. Especially ones described as “beautifully rendered.”
11. The word “Great” is not used to depict the awesomeness of the war, but the magnitude and lethality of its weapons and tactics. A whole generation of young British men was brutally destroyed at Verdun and Sommes.
12. I have always heard that these books were actually about Christianity, Jesus, and Satan. C.S. Lewis supposedly wrote them after his conversion. I’m not doubting it, just never researched it.
13. See The Eagle based on the 1954 young adult book entitled The Eagle of the Ninth… this movie sucks ass. Unlike the 1951 version of The Red Badge of Courage which did not suck ass, however, the 1974 version did suck… it was made for TV. Any movie made for TV in the 1970s sucked.
14. Better yet, head to a VFW post on a Friday night and let the kids hang out at the bar and hear the stories that flow as easily as the beer does.
15. Horses are vehicles though… ask the Amish and my Dad.
16. For the record, this is the first time an initial draft spelling check didn’t show me a bunch of red underlined words (except “bastardization” but that is a real word in my world). Cannot guarantee there are coherent or grammatical sentences, but there were no misspelled words.