Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To End All Wars

Directed by David L. Cunningham
Actors: Robert Carlyle and Keifer Sutherland
Written by Brian Godawa
MPAA: R for some language and war violence

To End All Wars takes us to places where other war films have no interest in exploring. What is the just response for the just man who must endure wrongdoing and crucifixion? Obviously, To End All Wars is no ordinary movie. It will challenge you and make you ask the question—what would I do if I had a second chance in life?

The film was written by Brian Godawa and may be his best work to-date. It is one of the best examples of a truly redemptive film that has come out in the past few years. In fact, it could serve as the ‘poster child” for the type of films that Christians and media missionaries should be making. It offers a profound message without being overtly preachy. Powerful doesn’t even begin to describe its impact. The screen play is based on the autobiography of Ernest Gordan and recounts his story as a prisoner of war in Thailand during World War II.

But the story is really not a war movie. Most of us are familiar with the historical details of the construction of the Burma railroad and the cruelties of the Japanese captors as told in the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai, but this is the part of the story that you don’t know.

The story centers around Ernest Gordan, played by Ciaran McMenamin, who is recovering from a near fatal disease. He begins to teach his fellow prisoners philosophy from Plato and Shakespeare, along with teachings from the Bible. Gordan’s superior officer, Major Ian Campbell, played by Robert Carlye, is critical of the increasing pacifist teachings of Gordan. Also skeptical is Jim Reardon, the lone American, played by Keifer Sutherland. Reardon also runs a black market on the side and is interested only in self-preservation.

How do we remain human under such inhuman conditions? Is it possible to keep our faith? To End All Wars explores these questions as well as other difficult philosophic and moral issues. These prisoners are caught in the trap of hate and vengeance toward the Japanese. Do they find a way out? Are we truly our brother’s keeper? Under the relentless conditions of brutality in the camp, can the soldiers learn to survive and find the meaning and purpose from Gordan’s teachings?

Yes, there is brutality and, at times, it can be difficult to watch. However, it offers a positive and hopeful message that somehow humans are capable of finding their humanity, even under the most brutal conditions. This film should be required viewing for all future media missionaries. It is impossible to watch and not be moved through great feelings of pain as well as joy. The acting is superb and authentic. Although the budget was relatively small compared to most Hollywood productions, the filmmakers did a magnificent job in recreating the jungles of Burma during World War II.

Released in 2001 by 20th Century Fox, To End All Wars deserved a larger audience. Screened at the Toronto Film Festival as an official selection, the film received positive reviews. It is currently available on DVD.

Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean to be human?
2. How do we forgive those who hate us and want to destroy us?
3. Why were the Allied troops treated so harshly by the Japanese?
4. How did Gordon’s sickness help transform him?
5. What Christian concepts and principles are represented in this film?
6. Does this film offer an answer for why we must suffer?
7. How does Keifer Sutherland’s character represent the “every man for himself” approach to life?
8. What is justice?
9. Why do we need hope in order to survive life?
10. How does the just man vs. the just response differ in how Campbell and Gordon deal with their imprisonment?
11. Is there a just response for what the just man must endure?
12. What is the Bushido code?
13. Why does Campbell make a deal with the Japanese?
14. Why do the prisoners eventually get their books back?
15. Why is it important to understand other cultures?
16. Why did the American admit to taking the shovel?
17. Why is Campbell determined to escape?
18. How can we be truly free?
19. Why did Dusty offer himself as a sacrifice for Campbell, and what does the sacrifice represent?
20. What is the power of forgiveness?
21. What is the definitive moment in this film as it relates to the Bushido Code?
22. At the end of the film, how are the prisoners transformed?
23. Why is Campbell upset at his fellow prisoners?
24. Is killing ever the answer for justice?
25. Is Campbell transformed at the end of the film or has he learned something that will help him in his life?

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