The historical conflict goes by a number of names: the Great War, the War to End All Wars, and later, World War I (1914–1918). Though World War II (1939–1945) caused far more destruction and higher death tolls, some Europeans who lived through both catastrophic wars—such as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis—thought the First World War was more jarring to society and civilization than the second.1

blog__inline--1917-a-movie-about-choices-character-courageBefore I write some reflections about the new movie 1917, here are a few basic facts about World War I:2

  • The war began in 1914 upon the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and lasted through 1918.
  • The war involved the Allied Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, and the United States, among others) versus the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire).
  • New military technologies and chemical weapons used in the war included: airplanes, tanks, machine guns, and poison gas.
  • The war resulted in a staggering 37,000,000 casualties.
  • If laid end-to-end, the distinctive trenches erected by both sides during World War I would stretch some 35,000 miles.

The Film: 1917

Director Sam Mendes’s new and gripping film, 1917 (with cinematography by Roger Deakins), captures one of the many dramatic stories3 of the Great War. As you can imagine the film involves violence, gruesome war scenes, and some offensive language. Allow me to ever so briefly summarize the plot without giving too much away for those who have not yet seen it. And you should definitely see it!

In April 1917, the war is at a stalemate. British lance corporals and best friends Tom Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay) are given an extremely difficult and time-sensitive mission. If they are able to carry it out, they could save the lives of 1,600 of their fellow soldiers, including Blake’s brother. They encounter harrowing events as they cross over hostile territory in a frantic attempt to deliver their urgent, potentially life-saving message to military leaders at the western front.

3 Reflections on the Movie

As a student of the history of war (particularly the two world wars), I appreciated the movie’s attention to detail in terms of uniforms, weapons, and the trenches. I also thought the film allowed me to feel a little of what it must have been like to be on the battlefields of the War to End All Wars. In the protagonists’ attempt to carry out their do-or-die military mission, I see at least three philosophical issues of life.

First, the everyday choices we make in life can have dramatic results in extraordinary circumstances. For example, war can make seemingly small decisions monumental in effect. Blake chooses Schofield at the beginning of the movie in a mundane manner but that decision ultimately impacts the lives of hundreds of men. Thus, as volitional creatures the choices we make are meaningful, and over the course of our lives they define who we are and what we accomplish.

Second, the people we associate with in life tend to shape us just as we tend to shape them. Our relationships can have a profound impact on who we become and the character we ultimately develop. A critical part of the movie hinges on the way Schofield adopts Blake’s mission, values, and sense of urgency. So the people in our lives and our relationships with them can serve to transform us for good or bad.

Third, courage is a foundational virtue both in life and in facing death. Courage is not the absence of fear but the recognition that some things are more important than one’s personal safety and peaceful state of mind. Both of the soldiers in the movie face stark fear but, motivated by a deep concern for others, they are able to overcome it. Thus, courage can be defined as the mental or moral willingness to face danger, difficulty, or trial. And we all need courage in life and in death.

1917 has won numerous awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Picture and Best Director and the Academy Award for Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing. I highly recommend the movie. It made me think about history, virtue, and how I live my life. I think it might do the same for you.

Reflections: Your Turn

What is your favorite war movie? Why? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe

  1. Both Tolkien and Lewis served in the British Army during World War I and closely followed World War II from their homes in Oxford, England. See A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 by Joseph Loconte.
  2. For more about World War I, see The First World War by John Keegan.
  3. 1917 is something of a true story, loosely based on a tale the director’s grandfather—Alfred H. Mendes, who served with the British Army during the First World War—told him as a child.” See Alex Nelson, “Is 1917 a True Story? First World War Background and Historical Accuracy of the Oscar-Nominated Sam Mendes Film,” The i Newsletter, February 9, 2020,


About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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