Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tomorrow When The War Began (Review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Originally released in 2010, Tomorrow When the War Began becomes available on DVD and BluRay this week.  In Australia the flick made many millions.  No surprise.  The film adapts the first of a vastly popular book series there by John Marsden.

I haven't read the books.  Now I want to.  Very much.

Many the rough synopsis of the story gives a wrong impression.  Seven teenagers come back from a weekend trip to find their homeland invaded, their parents prisoners of a foreign power, and all seven decide to fight back.  Sounds like Red Dawn, doesn't it?

Actually, its more like Harry Potter.  Sans anything like magic.  A group of young people end up in exactly the right place at the wrong time to make a difference--and do it, making heart-rending decisions in the process.  What could have ended up little more than a video game (Woo-hoo!  Lets Kill Us Some Foreigners!) instead becomes a war drama coupled with a terrible coming of age.  Some one in the audience when I saw it went on about how if she had to kill someone in war it wouldn't bother her at all.  My companion, who served in the Isreali military and knows plenty of war veterans, disagreed.  So did I, not least because of memories involving my own father's nightmares from the second World War.  TWTWB fails--gloriously--to romanticize war even a little bit.  When the central character, Ellie (Caitlin Stasey), kills to save herself and her friends in a real way she never gets over it.  "I've got blood on my hands," she tells the others.  Not that she's weak.  On the contrary!  Ellie rapidly becomes the leader of this little band, in part because she has the courage to not only fight, but also live with the horror of slaughtering human beings.

Also, keep in mind this film avoids anything jingoistic.  The invaders, a Coalition of Nations, remain unspecific (save that they're Asian).  More, while warfare never becomes somehow wonderful, the extreme conditions don't lead to the extreme opposite conditions--nothing akin to Lord of the Flies.  Instead, we watch the reluctant birth of heroes--not bloodthirsty children or mindless killing machines, but warriors who carry a heavy burden but do so well.

Ellie and her best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd Wood) with Corrie's boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis) all want to get away for a weekend, out camping in the wilderness.  Joining them are Ellie's next door neighbor Homer (Deniz Akdeniz), along with perpetually chirpy Fi (Phoebe Tonkin), deeply religious Robyn (Ashleigh Cummings) and Lee (Chris Pang), the boy Ellie crushes on.  In a somewhat heavy-handed bit of symbolism/foreboding the area they head for carries the name Hell.  Once there, they all enjoy themselves immensely.  They hardly even notice the low flying jet planes one night.

Until they get back home.

At that point every single character starts a wrenching personal journey.  Every single one ends up forced to look into the mirror of events.  Some like what they find.  Others are appalled.  But that inner struggle remains the heart of the film--not the (three, not terribly grand) battle sequences.  Someone must mature, very quickly.  Someone else must find their courage.  Another struggles with the most deeply held convictions, forced to make the most horrible of choices.

The dialogue's a bit clunky.  One can tell at times this was a full-length book, whittled down to its essence (more shades of Harry Potter).  For American tastes it may seem to start slow.  But I left the theater hoping very very much for a sequel.  I know there are several books.

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