I assure you that I have not yet read any commentaries regarding the film, War Horse. Therefore, I will share with you my unalloyed and brief review: This film contains a clash of contrasting images: violent and horrific vs. nostalgic and sentimental.
The film scenes re-creating World War I are horrible, violent, and bloody. The images and sounds assault and torment us [the viewers] as the film confronts us with the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man.
This film also explores relationships between: villagers, neighbors, friends, comrades, humans and animals, grandparents and grandchildren, parents and children, and husbands and wives.
I remember when I first watched Schindler’s List, which Stephen Speilberg brought from print to film. I said at the time, “This is a film we need to view. If brave, courageous people had to live — and suffer and die — through this horror, the very least we can do is to watch it, no matter how difficult.”
We must be repeatedly reminded, in the most brutal way possible, if necessary, of the horrors of war and genocide.
It is likely that film reviewers will sneer at the nostalgia and sentimentality of the “schmaltzy” relationship scenes. I disagree with them.
The ancient Greek philosophers knew that the intellect must “reign in” the emotions, as a rider “reigns in” a horse. We must, therefore, train our emotions to respond appropriately to whatever the intellect first determines to be virtuous and true.
This film encourages us to indulge in the “relationship scenes,” in order to remind us of the hope that, one day, the created order will be made right. The Hebrew Scriptures declare: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [Amos 5.24]
We cannot live without the hope that the created order will one day be restored: wars between nations will cease, human dignity will be restored, human life will be protected and valued, and humans will be reconciled with God and with one another.
The “schmaltzy scenes” of the film serve not to merely manipulate our emotions. Rather, those scenes represent a “keyhole” preview into a world of the future, when justice and righteousness will reign forever.