Reading for Friday, 6 February

And now the writing zooms back out from Pierre to the battlefield as a whole.  (This is one of the things that I like about the Bondarchuk film – while it whizzes through the story pretty fast and skips a lot of stuff – visually, it’s trying to represent Tolstoy’s ideas on screen as well as possible.)

In fact, it reminds me of a comment that Peter Jackson made about his Lord of the Rings films.  He said that when they were filming a battle scene, the temptation was to string lots of big fighting moments together in a battle scene.  But what makes the battle scenes work you need both the big scale vision and the small intimate details that makes it work.

So in this chapter, we have left just Pierre’s point of view and moved out to a large-scale view of the battlefield, where orders are being given that are ultimately meaningless.  People charge when they shouldn’t, retreat when they shouldn’t.

In one way, it feels quite real – in another way, I actually find it hard to imagine battles, anyway.  Even warfare today seems to be all firing shells at people miles away.  This kind of combat, where you could eyeball your opponent across a field is something unusual (and fascinating, which is why so many history books and war films get made).

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.33 – Zooming Out

  1. I suppose this Chapter is basically another variation on the theme that Tolstoy has made so central to his portrayal of this war – its chaos, and the total lack of connection between the master-plans of its “leader”, and the actions on the ground. Here we see what all of that, which has mostly been presented to us just in an abstract, theoretical way so far, actually means on the ground of the battlefield – orders coming from every direction, people going in every direction.

    And you’re right, Matt – there is something strange and unsettling about the way that, in battles like this, and like most of them, the people you are shooting at and killing are within just a few paces of you. I remembered, even as a young bloke, being really staggered by that. I remembered really noticing it in a scene from the 1980s movie of Gallipoli, where theyt call a truce for a short time so both sides can bury their dead, and there they are – the Turks and the Aussies – close enough to be able to have conversations, and light one another’s cigarettes. Suddenly they are no longer two countries at war, but a bunch of human beings, wandering amongst one another. I think we see that same thing time and time again throughout War ad Peace where, at so many levels, the war is presented to us not as a clash between Napoleon and Alexander, but as a senseless, crazed and chaotic killing frenzy between thousands upon thousands of fellow human beings.

  2. Well, what did you sweet young things think war was, back in those days – somebody threatens to push the red button while the other side threatens to push a bigger red button?

    They didn’t have aircraft from which to bomb people with then – so it was a whole lot different.

    Fifty years from now, we’ll just send viruses from our computers – we won’t even have to get uniforms.

    And flying into tall buildings will be out of style.

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