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Why 1917 Resonates with Us

This post was originally published in February 2020. Justin is reposting some of the top blog posts during the month of August while he takes a break from the blog.

The film 1917 tells the story of Lance Corporal Blake’s dangerous mission to deliver a message that could save the life of his older brother and 1,600 British Soldiers during World War I. In the opening scene, Blake awakens his colleague Lance Corporal Schofield informing him he will join him on an unspecified mission. When they are ordered to report to headquarters in the trenches, neither Soldier knows why. They suspect they are going to carry out a routine duty. Neither man understands the implications and perilous assignment they will receive. 

Plugged In provides an excellent review of the movie here. 1917 is a cinematic masterpiece. It accurately portrays the hellish conditions Soldiers faced during “The Great War.” Viewers certainly leave with a clearer understanding of trench warfare and the bravery demonstrated by so many men. Screen rant provides some really interesting behind the scenes facts about the movie–definitely worth checking out.

The best book I ever read on the subject is the masterpiece, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. Dan Carlin, host of the Hardcore History podcast, brilliantly helps listeners grasp the scope and tragedy of the conflict. If you’re interested in learning more about this time in history, these resources will help you check that box. 

As I reflected on 1917, I thought about why the movie so powerfully connects with audiences. At the time I’m writing this column, it has reached number one at the box office, grossing over $37 million. While courage, duty, perseverance, and loyalty are clearly on display in the film, another crucial theme is present: love. The story demonstrates the abiding love Blake has for his brother and fellow Soldiers, and it also depicts the love Schofield has for his band of brothers. I believe this is the ingredient that draws us to 1917, and why the story resonates with us. Deep in our hearts we know love is the greatest gift. Love is sacrificial. It is manifested by a willingness to give and receive nothing in return. 

As a pastor, I have counseled men and women. I have spent time with some people who were unwilling to truly unconditionally love their spouse or family. Perhaps at one time in their relationship they were. However, as I listened to them and counseled them, I sensed they weren’t willing to sacrifice or do what was necessary to completely love the person they vowed to love until death parted them. So often our understanding of love is distorted by our sin.  

Jesus perfectly demonstrated his love by giving His life for us. He said, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He also taught us how to love by demanding we set aside everything to follow Him. “Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). When we commit to truly love God, our first step of obedience is sacrificial. We’re sacrificing our own desires–dying to self daily–and submitting to His leadership. In doing so, we discover how to faithfully and authentically love our spouses, children, family, friends, and neighbors.

When we see stories like 1917 they resonate with us, because deep down, we know love is the greatest gift the world has ever received. God is love (1 John 4:8), and His love drove Him to sacrifice for us (John 3:16). Whether we realize it or not, we all yearn for real love. Many people look for love in human relationships, but the only love that can completely satisfy is God’s love. As Saint Augustine wrote in Confessions, “You made us for Yourself–and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  

Only God loves perfectly, because it is His very nature to do so.  

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