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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

War Horse

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Jeremy Irvine stars in Steven Spielberg's "War Horse."
"War Horse" (Disney) is director Steven Spielberg's epic screen version of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel, the stage adaptation of which has proved a critical and popular success both in London and on Broadway.

Despite Morpurgo's tenure as the U.K.'s official children's laureate, though, Spielberg's vast canvas makes unsuitable viewing for kids—because of the intensity of the onscreen drama, the level of violence in scenes of World War I fighting and some of the vocabulary used in screenwriters Lee Hall and Richard Curtis' script. Mature audience members, on the other hand, will encounter a stirring affirmation of human solidarity amid the tragedy of the trenches.

Ironically, this realization of shared values is brought about by the heroism and endurance of the film's nonhuman protagonist, the titular equine.

We first meet the thoroughbred—who eventually acquires the sobriquet Joey—while he's in the auction pen of a small English town. There he sets off a bidding war between the local squire (David Thewlis) and one of his tenants, farmer Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan). Though he can neither afford nor use the animal, Ted stubbornly outbids his overbearing landlord just to thwart him.

When Ted brings Joey home, his good-hearted but timid wife Rosie (Emily Watson) is appalled; his teenage son Albert (newcomer Jeremy Irvine), by contrast, is delighted. Albert insists that he can transform Joey into a working horse, capable of plowing the fields. Though he eventually does so, with the onset of the Great War, continuing economic pressures prompt Ted to sell Joey to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), an army officer bound for the Western Front.

This initiates a series of adventures and trials that are, by turns, touching and harrowing. The horrors to which Joey is subjected will likely make the substantial portion of the movie that follows a difficult slog for animal lovers, while those indifferent to our furry, feathered or hoofed friends will hardly be drawn to this tale in the first place.

But those who imitate Joey by persevering through it all will find themselves rewarded with a positive message based on humanistic values.

The film contains considerable combat and other violence, including an execution; about a half-dozen uses of crass language; and a few vague sexual references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Rose Philippine Duchesne: Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the new rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness. She entered the convent at 19 and remained despite their opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for homeless children and risked her life helping priests in the underground. 
<p>When the situation cooled, she personally rented her old convent, now a shambles, and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend. In a short time Philippine was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But her ambition, since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea en route to New Orleans, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis. She then met one of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called "the remotest village in the U.S.," St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi. </p><p>It was a mistake. Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove them out—to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory. "In her first decade in America, Mother Duchesne suffered practically every hardship the frontier had to offer, except the threat of Indian massacre—poor lodging, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, forest fires and blazing chimneys, the vagaries of the Missouri climate, cramped living quarters and the privation of all privacy, and the crude manners of children reared in rough surroundings and with only the slightest training in courtesy" (Louise Callan, R.S.C.J., <i>Philippine Duchesne</i>). </p><p>Finally at 72, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her "Woman-Who-Prays-Always." While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. She died in 1852 at the age of 83 and was canonized in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog It was important for some saints to vanish from view, to “decrease” so that God could “increase” in the scheme of things. Many saints actively fought promotions. If obedience required embracing them, they found other ways to remain lowly.

 
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