1917 doesn’t need an ending explained, the events of the movie are pretty straight forward. The finale won’t leave you asking any questions and everything ties up in a way that services the entire story.
However, that doesn’t mean that the ending isn’t worth talking about and this film finalizes on a beautifully somber moment that has stuck with me long after seeing the movie.
Throughout this, we’re gonna be breaking down the journey that the characters in the film go on as well as the real-life events that inspired the movie.
There will be heavy spoilers here so if you haven’t had a chance to see 1917 yet and don’t want to know what happens then I highly suggest that you turn off now.
With that out the way I just wanna give a huge thank you for clicking this, now let’s get into why the ending of 1917 is so perfect.
1917 Plot Recap
1917 is filmed as one continuous shot. The camera doesn’t cut away at any point. There’s no mid-scene changes, no diverting from what’s happening on screen and because of this the film feels relentless.
Shooting an entire movie in this style is an extremely difficult task but Director Sam Mendes purposely put this in place as it’s necessary for the film’s overall message.
There are no real breaks in war. No real moments of respite. No moments to mourn or take in what is really going on and what you have sacrificed in order to fight for Queen and Country.
One moment you will be clasping at your friend as they pass away and the next you will be sat listening to a song sung by a soldier. You don’t really have a chance to take it in or truly comprehend what is happening.
Every single second could be your last whether you know it or not and because of this it helps us to not only engage with the journey early on but also be invested in it as it takes it’s course throughout the almost two hour run time.
We open on a shot of a field that is almost instantly juxtaposed by two soldiers. Perfectly it sets up the dichotomy of the film in which we will see our central characters go on a journey through hell, all whilst surrounded by the natural beauty of the world.
These two characters are corporals Schofield and Blake, both of who have been given a task of the utmost importance.
Under orders, they are to cross into former German Territory to deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie, a soldier that is currently chasing after the retreating German forces.
This is a trap, the Germans are willingly withdrawing in order to lure the British Army into a situation where they can be ambushed and wiped up. The two have been chosen because Blake’s brother is in the British Brigade about to be slaughtered and they set off immediately.
1917: The Real-Life Story
The movie itself is actually based on the true story of The Director’s Grandfather – Alfred Mendes, who served in the British Army during the war. Mendes was told stories by his grandad of what it was like to be in the conflict and from this he put the movie together.
I’m sure many of you at home watching this have heard similar tales growing up and the first world war is still something that has a large impact in the United Kingdom more than 100 years later.
My own Grandfather was a Sergeant Major during the War and often my grandmother would recount to me tales of his bravery and also the horrors that he faced looking at death every day.
Mendes’ Grandfather was awarded a medal for bravery after he was tasked with a mission to locate injured soldiers in No-Mans Land.
George MacKay who stars as the film’s main lead also relates heavily to the film as his great, great, great uncle Albert Victor Baulk also was tasked with a similar mission to what we see out.
Baulk was a signaller for the 196th Siege Battery in France and he helped to relay important messages across land as we see Mackay’s character do in the film.
It’s stories like this that grant the film with a feeling of authenticity and you can see the personal tales shape the facets of the movie, grounding them massively.
The Death Of Blake
As Blake and Schofield make their way across the landscape there is a huge range of emotions portrayed in just a few minutes. One second they are gingerly approaching what may or may not be an abandoned outpost. The next, they are laughing about life in the trenches all before it climaxes in the death of Blake who is murdered by a German pilot that crashlands close to them.
Blake bleeds out and Schofield promises him that he will write to his mother and say that he wasn’t scared.
Just like that, Schofield has watched his friend die in front of him.
The worst thing that could happen on the mission has.
But there’s no chance to mourn his friend.
No moment to sit and collect his thoughts, more soldiers arrive and tell him not to dwell on the loss of Blake and thus all this pain, all this agony that Schofield is going through is brushed to the side and duty is put before death.
A Stiff Upper Lip
It really exemplifies the stiff upper lip that Brits are stereotyped as having and portrays how when things are at their lowest, we often don’t have time to even accept that they are and we must keep moving.
Schofield himself isn’t really even happy that he’s a soldier, he takes no joy in war and even confesses to Blake that the prior medal he received he ended up exchanging for wine. He just doesn’t want to remember any of this but he’s stuck in this impossible situation, doing the best that he can.
There are dark humor moments such as when he accidentally puts his hand in a corpse on the battlefield and a real feeling of kinship, but ultimately, every soldier in this war wants to get home, get away from it and be back with the ones that they love.
This is exemplified early on in the introduction of the movie when Blake says he hopes to be home before Christmas and it solidifies where the real sense of duty for these men lay.
They were fighting in order to protect the ones that they loved back home.
Fighting in these hellscapes in order so that the ones they cared about didn’t have to experience what they did.
Schofield continues to make the journey himself, dodging gunfire, watching towns burn to the ground and eventually he comes across a French woman named Lauri and her baby. Lauri tends to his wounds but in retrospect, this setup is similar to the one that Schofield left behind.
The film ends with the character looking at a photo of his wife and children and seeing this first hand really backs up the prior point that these men were fighting so that women and children wouldn’t have to go through the horrors of war firsthand.
Lauri begs him to say and he easily could. At one point he even looks like he will…but an ominous church bell rings and reminds him that there is more important things out there. He breaks out, jumps into a river and flows upstream, finally breaking upon reaching the shore.
Watching the character cry is agonizing and it reminds you that throughout all of the film, we haven’t had a chance to really even catch our own breaths and take in exactly what has gone on.
A One-Shot Take
One-shot takes often leave you feeling like you don’t have a moment to catch your breath and seeing the character go through this is one of the most impactful moments of the film.
Schofield arrives too late and the battle begins with the first wave being sent out. The trenches, however, are full and thus in order to stop the rest of the waves going out, Schofield takes a shortcut, by running sideways across the battlefield. It’s an insane moment that is incredible to see play out on the big screen.
Finally, he reaches Colonel Mackenzie played by Benedict Cumberbatch who, after reading the letter orders his men to stand down.
Looking for Blake’s brother, Schofield goes to the medical tent and comes face to face with Blake’s brother played by Richard Madden. Schofield tells him of his siblings fate and gives him some of his belongings that he took from him upon his death.
Blake is naturally ripped apart by the news, it’s a crushing blow to him but, as we discussed, there is no real-time to mourn here and he pulls himself together almost instantly. All of the men who fought in this war have been forever changed by the events that they saw. The journey that they went through and though they may have made it through the war, the ending does not matter, this took away their humanity but it doesn’t mean that they have lost it forever.
The film ends with Schofield and Blake shaking hands in what is the World War One equivalent of an emotional hug. Schoefield promises to write to Blake’s mother and he goes to sit under a tree, similar to how we first met him in the opening. However, this time he is without Blake, he is a man who has had a friend torn away from him because of the journey that we’ve seen him go through.
1917: Ending Explained
He pulls out a photo of his wife and children and looks at them, reminding himself of what he has waiting for him when he gets home. The hope that if he makes it out of this war he may get to see them again. Every day he is fighting to make it just one more. He will likely go through more journeys similar to this, face death every day but one day, it will end and he will be reunited with the family that he is fighting to protect.
Every moment that he has gone through, every agonizing footstep that he has taken forward has been in order to get this one, solitary second in which he can remind himself of his family.
He turns over a photo that says ‘come back to us‘ and closes his eyes which ends the film.
It really is the perfect way to close off the film, reminding us that no matter what we go through, there’s always the hope that things can get better and that somewhere out there is a day that will make it all worth it.
1917 is not only a technical masterpiece but a masterpiece of storytelling as well.
The film is an incredible feat that has its heart in the right place to and though I went into the movie expecting it to just be a by the numbers war story, it told me far more about the human condition, brotherhood, death and how through it all we must keep moving even when we are at our lowest.
1917 was incredible and that’s why it scores a perfect…
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