Everyone has a film or two that they love… and no one else has seen. For me, The Power of One and To End All Wars are those films. The first stars a very young Stephen Dorff and Morgan Freeman, and the second stars Kiefer Sutherland, a pre-Stargate Robert Carlyle, and a before-anyone-knew-who-he-was Mark Strong. I know how to pick ‘em, don’t I?
Considering Lent, To End All Wars makes sense, as the film is based on the memoirs of the one-time chaplain of Princeton University, Ernest Gordon (Ciarin McMenamin). Gordon watches the way that Christ is followed even as POWs are forced to help build the Japanese’s Bridge over the River Kwai. Subjected to intense abuse, torture, and sometimes, execution, the prisoners have the opportunity to choose hate or to choose love. It’s a subject that we see reoccurring in the stories of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, who are usually minorities; here, the minorities are those who are normally considered ‘privileged,’ that is, the white, Europeans and Americans.
It’s ironic that both of my “what movie?” options reflect that sense of what it means to forgive, or to merely choose non-violence. In a world that seems intent on building up our machismo and reinforcing our sense of ‘fight or flight,’ Brian Godawa’s adaptation of Gordon’s memoirs screams for another way (and I don’t mean ‘freeze’). Obviously, given such recent films as The Butler and its complicated exploration of the various paths to true freedom, we’re still inclined to be sucked into a battle where we use the same methods of attack as those we can’t stand. MLK said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” To End All Wars is a film about living that out under the most extreme situations.
I’ll admit it: watching the film isn’t for the faint of heart. I find myself experiencing heartache and anger every time I watch! But it also draws me closer to the heart of Christ, and in this time of Lent, I have to ask, “how do I repent of my anger? How do I practice love and forgiveness on a daily basis?” I certainly don’t think it’s easy, but To End All Wars doesn’t claim that it is! We’re not into easy though, are we? When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24-26), don’t we have to expect that he means it?
If you’ve never seen the film, you need to give it a shot. It’ll trouble you, but sometimes being troubled is a precursor to change. That’s what Lent is all about– and to truly follow Christ, we’ve got to be willing to change.
This reflection was published as part of our ongoing Lenten film series at HollywoodJesus.com. You can check there for other films, like Amazing Grace, Babel, and others, coming soon.