There’s nothing new or unusual about an artist taking a chaotic, terrifying, inexplicable historical episode and seeking to make some sense of it by overlaying it with a cathartic narrative, but whew, Spielberg takes the cake! He doesn’t overlay, he positively smothers! This isn’t a movie about the insane mechanized apparatus of death that was WWI using the story of a single horse as a vehicle; it’s a movie about a beautiful, brilliant, heroic horse who happened to have lived through WWI. This movie’s sense of history is so bizarrely out of whack, it spends literally no time on the questions of who’s fighting and why; its only concern is the fate of the relationship between a farm boy and his horse.
There may be a kind of willful myopia in play here. We know Spielberg isn’t ignorant of history, so if he’s ignoring it, might that be a deliberate decision? Does the strangely old-fashioned lighting of the early and late bookend scenes offer a clue? I haven’t seen such heroic and artificial sunsets since Gone with the Wind, I don’t think. Is this, like Scorsese’s Hugo, less a movie about history than a movie about movies? I’m probably fishing in a puddle.