I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world below.
April, 1917. Trench
warfare, World War One. British
against the Germans. Two
British privates, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean Charles
Chapman) are tasked with a monumental assignment.
The British command has learned through aerial reconnaissance that
the Germans, thought to be on the run, are actually conducting a planned
retreat to a fortified defense, in order to lure the British soldiers out
of their trenches to their inevitable slaughter.
It's a trap. And the
British don't want to use “clear channel” radio to communicate,
because the Germans would intercept. So
they do this the old-fashioned way: they
send two soldiers, on foot, with written instructions.
The same way General Grant did it during the American Civil War.
And Napoleon. And
Julius Caesar. And Alexander
the Great. And as in all those
wars, as well, things never go quite according to plan.
There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger
In that bright land to which I go.
Schofield and Blake are told that the first part of their journey
would be easy, because the Germans have already retreated over that part
of No Man's Land. But their
journey through the devastated landscape ravaged by war is anything but
uneventful. There's the random
wounded German, impeding their progress.
The dugout tunnel the Germans left behind is trip-mined.
Blake is especially motivated because his brother is part of the
1,600-man force scheduled to attack at dawn, which gives him extra
incentive to traverse the dangerous countryside even in broad daylight.
I'm going there to see my Father
And all my loved ones who've gone on.
Stumbling on a truck convoy of friendly troops helps a little,
until they must pursue their orders in a different direction.
A village reduced to smoldering rubble surprisingly houses a young
French woman and a crying baby who she claims is not hers.
The brief respite is welcome, but immediately thereafter an unseen
sniper lurks, causing an unscheduled plunge into a raging river.
I'm just going over Jordan
I'm just going over home.
Ironically, the only sound Schofield hears upon stumbling out
of the river is one clear tenor singing “Wayfaring Stranger,” as a
serenade to the troops about to embark on their doomed attack.
He desperately seeks to find the commander, in order to prevent
even more useless carnage.
Director Sam Mendes uses a filming technique that makes it seem
like one long continuous take. He
also utilizes tension-filled silence, a moving musical score, and the
war-torn landscape to create an immersive and emotive viewing experience.
It's harrowing. But
it's worth it.