To End All Wars is a film with something to say. Which turns out to be its great strength, as well as its greatest weakness.
I should have loved this film: It's about self-sacrificing heroism in the face of impossible circumstances, the power of forgiveness over hatred, the futile tragedy of war and God's way of peace in the midst of it. And I was pulling for it, ever since reading the glowing article in Books & Culture a couple summers ago. Then after hearing about the filmmakers' travails trying to get it onto big screens or into video stores, I've been wanting this project to succeed.
The premise is a great one, and the story true, inspired by Ernest Gordon's autobiographical Miracle on the River Kwai. It comes out of the same brutal prisoner of war camps that gave us the deeply affecting Bridge on the River Kwai. The Japanese are striving to build a strategic railroad link to India, and they are willing to sacrifice their prisoners to build it on an impossible schedule. How will these men stay alive in such extreme and hopeless conditions?
The men begin a secretive "jungle university," teaching one another whatever they know best: the philosophy of Plato, the poetry of Shakespeare, or the radical teachings of Jesus. In so doing, they discover purpose and hope. Screenwriter Brian Godawa draws out the deepest of Christian truths in this horrific but anything-but-God-forsaken setting.
There is a spiritual maturity here that very few films achieve. When a man like Ernest Gordon—who survived the camps and went on to serve as chaplain at Princeton University for a quarter century—speaks of the faith, his experience gives him immense authority, and Godawa (a Christian) brings passion and wisdom to the task of rendering these ...