We need to keep moving. Come on!
I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger Travelling through this world below There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger In that bright land to which I go. The last time I was so gripped by a film was in 1957 watching the Wizard of Oz at the Regent. But 1917 was just as scary – mainly due to the series of long takes making the viewing experience totally immersive. Clearly director Sam Mendes wants us to be fellow travellers with Lance Corporals Schofield and Blake, not just observers. For your peace of mind I won’t give the plot away – although the trailer does a pretty good job of spoiling the storyline. Try and forget it. You probably will know the basic plot of how these two unsuspecting tommies are tasked by an overbearing Colin Firth as General Erinmore to take an urgent message through German lines to save some 1,600 British troops. Just in case the stakes aren’t high enough, one of them is Blake’s brother. It’s a case of Saving Private Ryan meets The Great War, with just as an unflinching portrayal of battlefield violence along with a meticulous attention to detail. I hope that production designer Dennis Gassner wins an Oscar, not just for the design of his sets but their sheer scale, shifting some 1,615 tons of soil. However, I think I must be the only reviewer to point out that he has got his geology wrong. All in all, a remarkable film – well worth watching. For here we have one of the most basic of human stories of going on a dangerous journey to know salvation. Certainly there are echoes of Pilgrim’s Progress as the two travellers progress through many dangers, toils and snares. I know dark clouds will gather 'round me I know my way is hard and steep
In fact, at the outset of their journey the two lance corporals are sardonically sprinkled with liquor as holy water to make the seldom-concealed point that theirs is a holy undertaking. For theirs is a hard, fearful task, making their lonely ways through muddy, rat-infested trenches, corpse-strewn battlefields and abandoned farms of Picardy. Even so, Lance Corporal Blake presses on: “We need to keep moving! Come on!” And that’s our vocation for all disciples of Jesus, we need to keep going whatever life may throw at us, for we have a gospel to proclaim. The Bible recounts many journeys, tough and testing. So even as the Old Testament opens, God calls Abram to leave his home in Haran and go to the land he will show him. “He set out,” we read in the New Testament, “not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8) Then, the remarkable trek from Egypt to Canaan as God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt to their promised land over the Jordan. Whatever his people may say, Moses knows there is no going back. And it’s a tough call, from beginning to end. Just keep on going, just keep on trusting God in the most hostile of environments. Then there is the glorious journey, portrayed in the book of Isaiah, as the people of God return home from humiliating captivity in Babylon, a reprise of their journey generations earlier from Egypt. Dangers abound - as does God’s grace. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1f) Then in the New Testament Matthew, Mark and Luke structure their gospels with Jesus’ journey from the Galilee to Jerusalem. He knows that this means the cross, even though his disciples try and blank this out. Luke shares the detail that “(Jesus) gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) It is the letter to the Hebrews which emphases our need to keep going, to persevere despite what the world may throw at us, “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) Schofield and Blake know it all depends on them, success or failure, life or death. Black and white with no shades of grey. Life is reduced to its most basic, the fundamentals. For every soldier has to come to terms with the fact that once he is over the top, the likelihood is that he will be killed. That certainly concentrates the mind – which is very much the aim of the writer to the Hebrews. “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” (Hebrews 12:1). What makes all the difference is hope, the assurance of entering into the resurrection victory of Jesus. So the soldiers listen intently as their comrade sings the "Wayfaring Stranger": I'm going there to see my father And all my loved ones who've gone on I'm just going over Jordan I'm just going over home So, I'm just going over Jordan I'm just going over home I'm just going over Jordan I'm just going over home