In his review of Lone Survivor, a based-on-a-true-story war movie starring Mark Wahlberg as a Navy SEAL, Calum Marsh argues that every war movie is a pro-war movie:
…it’s important to remember that despite their moralizing, war films are still essentially action films — blockbuster spectacles embellished by the verve and vigor of cutting-edge special effects. They may not strictly glorify. But they almost never discourage.
All war films have heroes, for understandable reasons: to give audiences someone to root for, and because soldiers often really are heroic. But when a film like Lone Survivor transforms its Navy SEALs into infallible supermen tragically bested, it suggests that these men are role models only in death — that it was war that made them noble and heroic. The carnage and difficulties only underline the message. War isn’t great; war makes you great. What is such a sentiment if not pro-war?
Now, to be fair to Marsh, I don’t disagree with everything he writes. There are certainly plenty of war and action movie “spectacles” that depict violence with a certain sheen of “coolness” (via editing, special effects, etc.) that minimizes the horror of war and its terrible human cost. But at the same time, what an incredibly narrow definition of what constitutes a “war movie.”
Near the article’s end, Marsh posits that “it isn’t clear what a thoroughly, effectively anti-war film would look like.” I’m going to assume that Marsh has never seen Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies. I challenge Marsh, or anybody for that matter, to watch that film — which depicts, in often graphic and heart-breaking detail, the effects of war on the innocent — and walk away with the notion that it’s anything but “thoroughly, effectively” anti-war.