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They Shall Not Grow Old ~ A Capsule Movie Review

They Shall Not Grow Old ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

We already know that war is hell. If you still doubt it, you need to see the 2018 movie documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, made for theatrical release and currently being shown on HBO.

It’s now one hundred years since World War I, called the “Great War” at the time, or better yet, “the war to end all wars” (it wasn’t). It was the world’s first (and sadly not the last) experience with global warfare. Millions of people lost their lives, were displaced from their homes, and generally made miserable by food shortages, worthless currencies and dithering leaders who probably should have been locked up at the start.

The premise of They Shall Not Grow Old is a simple one. English men who served in the front lines, in the infantry, are talking about their experiences. We don’t see them but only hear their voices. What they are saying is accompanied by moving pictures of life on the front lines, on the “Western Front” in France. Many of these men were very young at the time, no more than eighteen or nineteen years old; they had limited experience of the world, let alone of war. While fighting the enemy at the frontlines, they lived through the worst and most terrifying experiences imaginable, knowing that at any moment a shell bearing their name might come out of the sky and slam into their heads. “You never see the shell that kills you,” they say, “because it’s traveling faster than the speed of sound.”

What makes They Shall Not Grow Old so impressive is that the hundred-year-old film clips have been reprocessed (digitized, colorized, enlarged, restored), giving them a sense of immediacy and a “you are there” feeling. Sound has been added, making it appear that the long-dead people in the film clips are talking, when you know they couldn’t be talking because synchronized sound in film hadn’t been invented yet. I don’t know how this technique is accomplished, but I guess it can be explained by a cliched phrase such as “state-of-the-art technology.” Whatever you call it, They Shall Not Grow Old is worth seeing as a testament to human suffering and the lunacy of war.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp