Warning: spoilers for 1917 are present throughout this article. If you haven’t seen the film yet, head out of this story and come back once you’ve caught up.
When people talk about Sam Mendes’ World War I epic 1917, the conversation tends to center around the amazing real time approach to the film’s narrative. While a technical marvel of a film, there’s a strong narrative that Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns have woven with their protagonist’s journey through the frontlines of warfare. Looking deeper into that story, 1917’s ending ties together a constant stream of events into one resonating finale of emotion. Consider this the last chance to turn back before spoilers, as we’re going to dive deep into the true meaning of 1917.
What Happens At The End Of 1917
Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) prevents Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) from launching the all-out attack he and his men thought would break the German line in 1917. Upon completion of his mission, he informs Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden), the older brother of Lance Corporal Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman) died in the line of duty. His mission completed, and this somber message delivered, Schofield rests in front of a tree and looks at a photo of his family. The film closes as he takes in the sunlight, re-reading the message written on the back of that photo: “Come back to us.”
What Does 1917’s Ending Mean
Lance Corporal Schofield has been having a bit of a hard go when it comes to 1917’s real life conflict. He’s previously received a medal, and is about to go home for leave soon; but he enjoys neither of those facts. Medals mean nothing, as he traded his medal away for a bottle of French wine; and he’s not looking forward to going home because he knows he’ll just be back soon enough. But his friendship with Lance Corporal Blake keeps him going, and after witnessing his death, as well as some other events, Schofield ends the film a changed man. He’s ready to keep fighting, and it seems like he’s ready to go home and be with the ones he loves. And it’s all thanks to the following chain of events.
The Emotional Journey Of 1917’s Lance Corporal Schofield
During his journey along with Lance Corporal Thomas in 1917, Lance Corporal Schofield had some important experiences that changed him throughout the adventure that took place over the course of the two hour movie. After starting their trek together, it didn’t take long before events started to change the initially jaded Lance Corporal Schofield.
The Near Death Of Lance Corporal Schofield
An explosion in the German bunker leaves Schofield temporarily blinded, forcing him to depend on Blake to get out of the crumbling underground trap. Like most people, it feels like the Lance Corporal’s journey back to the land of the living started with his brush with death in 1917. Getting out of the bunker alive, and the revelation of Blake’s friendship with Schofield leading him to select his compatriot for a supposedly easy mission, show the connection between the two.
The Death Of Lance Corporal Blake
While we see their friendship in shorthand from the start of 1917, Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield are firmly established in a friendly mode at the point where they discover the abandoned farm. By time Blake dies at the hands of the German pilot they tried to save, Schofield’s emotional state after the departure of his friend leaves him even more honor bound to complete his mission. While Blake was the catalyst for their mission, Schofield is even more motivated after this moment.
The Truck Ride With His Fellow Troops
In a show of kindness, Lieutenant Leslie (Mark Strong) lets Lance Corporal Schofield ride on the troop transport with his men in 1917. Listening to the stories of snooty superior officers, and sharing a flask with the group, it’s a big help in letting Schofield process the trauma of losing Lance Corporal Blake, and helps cement his need to deliver this message.
Finding Lauri And The Baby
As he continues to evade German troops after being knocked out by a gunshot, providing the only obvious cut in 1917, Lance Corporal Schofield finds shelter in the basement of a destroyed building. There he meets Lauri (Claire Duburcq,) a young French girl who is taking care of a baby. Providing milk for the baby, he’s tempted to stay with the two in the building. But, dutybound, Schofield leaves safety and heads back into battle.
Discovering The Troops In The Woods
Floating down the river after evading a handful of German troops, Lance Corporal Schofield finds the Second Battalion, and one of their men singing “I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” Whether he’s blown away by the singing in this beautiful 1917 moment, or he thinks he’s dead, it’s another moment that stops him in his tracks before his final push. A restful respite, before coming to his senses, Schofield snaps back into place, knowing what he has to do.
Scofield’s Dangerous Run
The final set-piece on 1917’s journey, Schofield knows it’s do or die in the name of the Second Battalion. Fully committed, he sprints along the ensuing push out of the trenches near the Hindenburg Line, running against the soldiers mounting the battlefield. Fighting against other officers trying to stop him, he fights for the cause he has taken up in the name of a fallen soldier.
Meeting Lieutenant Blake
Completing the mission at the heart of 1917, one final important task lies ahead of Lance Corporal Schofield. Informing Lieutenant Blake of his brother’s passing isn’t a happy event, to be sure. However, it reminds Schofield of the personal cost of war and why we fight. He finishes the job on behalf of the men he was saving, as well as his departed friend, and allows himself a moment in the sunshine to reflect on those he misses at home.
The True Meaning Of 1917
1917 isn’t a war movie, if anything it’s an anti-war movie. Glory and country only mean so much to Lance Corporals Schofield and Blake, as their families are their true motivations. Schofield isn’t trying to kill anyone he doesn’t have to, in fact he’s trying to stop the slaughter of his men. By the end of his experiences, Schofield seems ready to embrace life again, allowing himself to hope again.
Through near death encounters, and instances of kindness and warmth, the fog of war is pierced and Lance Corporal Schofield regains the humanity he needs to save 1600 men, while reminding him of what is at stake in World War I. Both a technical marvel and a personal triumph, the true meaning of 1917 is that when you remember what you’re fighting for, even the impossible seems doable. If you're look