From the Video Shop: Regeneration

Neil Turner

1997 - United Kingdom and Canada - 114 minutes

Writer - Allan Scott from a novel by Pat Barker

Director - Gillies MacKinnon

Internet Movie Database User Rating - 7.1/10 - Link to IMDB

My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars

I was looking over recommended films at NetFlix recently and found Behind the Lines - the USA title for Regeneration. It tells the story of the hospitalization during World War I of English poet, Siegfried Sassoon. It seems he was committed to a facility treating victims of shell-shock because he made the following statement about the war:

"I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because
I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end
it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this War,
on which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression
and conquest. I believe that the purpose for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon
this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them,
and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by
negotiation. I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a
party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not
protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities
for which the fighting men are being sacrificed. On behalf of those who are suffering now I
make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe
that I may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at
home regard the contrivance of agonies which they do not, and which they have not
sufficient imagination to realize."

Due to the influence of fellow poet, Robert Graves, Sassoon was confined to the hospital rather than being confined to prison.

The film opens with this statement after having panned from above the scenes of death in the mud so familiar to soldiers in that especially bloody war. I was struck that the statement could have been easily made by any soldier honorably serving today in the Middle East.

Even though the film is based upon a work of fiction, three of four main characters were real people - Sassoon; young writer, Wilfred Owen; and anthropologist, William Halse Rivers who did extensive work with victims of the mental trauma of war. Owen died in the war in 1918 at the age of twenty-five. Halse died in 1922 at the age of fifty-eight. Sassoon lived until 1967, dying at the ripe old age of eighty-one.

The film is expertly produced giving insight into the view of soldiers who are emotionally devastated by war as well as those treating them. Keep in mind that the general attitude was that any treatment should lead to the soldier returning to the battlefields. Halse is more sympathetic to the trials of these soldiers, but it is his aim to return them to be killed - or survive with a little luck. The battle scenes are somewhat dreamlike as most take place in the minds of the patients. Even with their grim subject, they are beautifully done.

This is not a happy film. Its subject prevents that. It is, however, a production with fine acting, authentic locations, and a script that causes you to think about the plight of the solder in all wars at all times. It caused great sadness in me knowing that I will die thinking that mankind will never find a solution to sending young men out to be slaughtered in the name of politics or religion just as those who have died hundreds of years before me have thought. Do you suppose that people - at sometime in the future - will die knowing that political and religious differences are always settled without the spilling of blood?

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Harvard Square Commentary, August 21, 2006