Plot Summary: War Horse is a movie inspired by author Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel. Taking place in World War I-era England, the story focuses on Albert, and English teenager his horse, Joey. His father, son of a Boer War veteran and failing farmer, purchases Joey at an auction and Joey trains him to be a successful plow horse. When Albert’s father sells Joey to the army for the war effort, he is heartbroken despite promises from a captain who plans to use him as his personal mount to return him safely when the war is over.
After his new owner is killed in battle, Joey and another British horse, Topthorn, change hands several times, ultimately as pulling heavy machinery for the German army where they endure injury and exhaustion. The war rolls on and Albert, now of age to enlist, joins the war effort. He is constantly searching the battlefields looking for Joey. During one battle, Albert is temporarily blinded by mustard gas at the same time Joey, cornered by a tank, panics and stampedes into a field of barbed wire. Both end up at the same infirmary – will the horse and his boy finally be reunited?
Critical Evaluation: War Horse is a beautiful, brutal movie addressing war, friendship and family. The movie does not shy away from the horror of war – viewers see the inhumanity of trench warfare and mustard gas; there is carnage, both human and equine, and we see the emotional toll of war on the soldiers. Joey’s journey from Albert’s home and back ties several storylines together. We see the difficult relationship between Albert and his father, the friendships Albert has at home, but most important is the love between the boy and his horse. We never stop believing that Albert entered the war with the purpose of finding Joey and bringing him home.
Reviews: New York Times: “War Horse registers the loss and horror of a gruesomely irrational episode in history, a convulsion that can still seem like an invitation to despair. To refuse that, to choose compassion and consolation, requires a measure of obstinacy, a muscular and brutish willfulness that is also an authentic kind of grace.”
Roger Ebert: “The film is made with superb artistry. Spielberg is the master of an awesome canvas.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “…a film that kids, middle-aged adults and grandparents can all see — together or separately — and get something out of in their own ways. There are precious few films that fit this description today and hats off to Spielberg for making one.”
Awards: American Film Institute Film of the Year (2011); Broadcast Film Critics Association Best Cinematography (2011); nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture (2011); nominated for five British Academy Film Awards including Best Cinematography (2011)
Reader’s Annotation: When Joey, a horse owned by a British boy named Albert, is sold to the British army during World War I, he begins a journey that will ttake him to several owners. Will he ever get back to Albert?
Director Information: Steven Speilberg is an award-winning director and producer. He has won Best Director Academy Awards for Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998); his best-known movies include Jaws (1975), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), the Indiana Jones movies with Harrison Ford (1981-2008), and Jurassic Park (1993). His is also a cofounder of the DreamWorks movie studio.
Genre: Historical fiction. Subgenre: coming of age, war, families, friendship
Movietalking Ideas: In a panic when cornered by a tank, Joey, a horse sold into the British army during World War I, runs into a field of barbed wire. A German soldier and an English soldier each approach, under a white flag of truce, to cut the horse out of the wire and then flip a coin to see which side will claim him. What does this say about people in general? Do you think that these men hate each other if their countries weren’t at war?
Interest Age: 13+
Challenge issues/Defense: Violence. Defense: This movie takes place during World War I, a war that was especially brutal because of the engagement of armies in trench warfare and the use of mustard gas. This is nothing that kids would not be learning in their history classrooms, and seeing it put in this context may help drive home the true horror of war.
Why did you include this movie in the titles you selected?
I was interested in seeing the movie after seeing a news clip about the play and how well it was received. World War I-related books and films are not as plentiful as are materials on World War II, and my son had asked about the War, having learned about World War II in school. It was a great opportunity to talk to my son about the horrors of war, and how games like Modern Warfare do not tell the full story.