On Becky’s recommendation, I requested My Boy Jack from the library quite a while ago. (Finding the link, I realize that is was a LONG time ago. Maybe the library should order a few more copies.) It arrived this week. I was alone last night (Tigger had a sleepover and Mat plays football/soccer on Friday nights) so I decided to watch it just to make sure it would be okay for Freya. Personally, I find the rating system close to useless for helping me with that decision but that is a rant for another day.
So, it is a WWI movie. The potential for violence, gore, general horror is quite high. But this film is not really about that aspect of the war. It is about the effect of the war on one family. It is about the internal conflict of supporting the war and yet not wanting to lose your own son/brother. It is about the conflict between supporting the war and the shock of how badly it is being fought by your country.
In other words, this is an ideal film for teaching some of those complexities of war that I have talked about on this blog before. You know avoiding the glorification of war, the importance of imperialism to the causes of war, that kind of stuff.
Basically, this is a very personal story of a very particular family. Jack is the only son of Rudyard Kipling. Kipling is a friend of the King. And an outspoken supporter of going to war against the Germans. He speaks publicly on the issue before war is declared. And he continues to speak afterwards, encouraging all young men to join the British Army to fight the Hun (his words). His outspoken support is directly connected to the British Imperial project and the need to save this great accomplishment, which he calls “a family of nations”, from German agression.
When war is declared, Jack is 17 and wants to join the Navy. He is severely short sighted and denied a commission. He then takes an army medical and is again denied on the grounds of his eyesight. Rudyard pulls strings and Jack goes off to train as an officer.
This film is not driven by suspense so I don’t think it ruins it to say that Jack is killed in the battle of Loos very early in the war. (Statistically, this is the most likely outcome, as we all know.)
The tension of the film is between Jack’s own desires and the desires of his father, not opposed but not quite aligned either. Between Rudyard’s love of country and empire and his love of family. Between Jack’s desire for independence and his own love of family. And between unflinching support of the war and the horrible crushing loss of a son/brother.
There are scenes in the trenches. But the horror is conveyed through the terror of the soldiers and the stark contrast between a muddy countryside marked with shell holes, barbed wire and other artifacts of war and the beautiful country estate of the Kiplings. The camera does not linger on dead and injured bodies nor the gory details of their deaths. (We do see Jack’s death, drawn out somewhat but interspersed between the telling of it in the living room in England and the showing of it.) There is some swearing, remarkable for its rarity in the film and completely appropriate in the circumstances.
I recommend that you go to Becky’s remembrance day post for further information about the historical context and the lovely poem from which the title of the film was taken.
And watch this film.