Book Review: The Philosophy of War Films


by David LaRocca, editor

Lexington University Press of Kentucky, 2018. Pp. vi, 532. Append., notes, index. $30.00 paper. ISBN: 0813176220

What Are War Films About?

In this new work Prof. LaRocca (Binghamton), the author or editor of several other volumes, including The Philosophy of Documentary Film, has collected fifteen essays that explore various aspects of war as depicted in film, television, and digital media.

The “films” run the gamut of genres from the purely fictional treatments through historical epics, docudramas, documentaries, and include serious as well as satirical items. They are grouped into four categories, “The Aesthetics of War On-Screen”, “War as Condition of Self-Formulation and Self-Dissolution”, “The Ethical Tribulations of War”, and “War, Nature, and the Absolute”. Most of the essays offer interesting insights on combat, warriors and veterans, and society at war as depicted on screen.

While there are some valuable observations in the book, there seems to be a problem in determining what constitutes a “war film” based on those selected for comment. Why are films such as The Third Man, Independence Day, and The Day of the Jackal included, when such important ones as the pioneering documentary The Battle of the Somme (1916) or the notable dramatic films Wings (1927) and La Bandera (1935) are not?

A further criticism is that there was no discussion of why the public – and even some veterans – seem comfortable with wholly unrealistic films such as The Dirty Dozen or Kelly’s Heroes airing on Memorial Day or June 6th, as a way of honoring those who served, rather than, say A Walk in the Sun (1945) or The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), both far more realistic in their portrayal of war and warriors.

In addition, some observations about how the ways in which films made early in a war differ from made in later periods, and from those made after it would have been useful; consider the differences between films made in 1942, such as Which We Serve or Wake Island, with those made in 1945, such as A Walk in the Sun or Pride of the Marines, and with those made well after the war, such as Sink the Bismarck (1960), The Longest Day (1962), and Catch-22 (1970).

The Philosophy of War Films, a volume in the Kentucky series “Philosophy Of Popular Culture”, is an useful read for anyone with an interest in war films, but leaves many questions.


Note: The Philosophy of War Films is also available in hard cover and several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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