Director: Stuart Cooper
Screenplay: Christopher Hudson, Stuart Cooper
World War II is possibly one of the most difficult subjects to aptly portray on film. That’s not to say that it isn’t attempted again and again to varying degrees of success, but more recent fare such as Edward Zwick’s Defiance, Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds lean toward frivolity as a result of their historical inaccuracy and lack of depth. It’s hardly surprising then, that of the monstrous offering of WWII films, only a small percentage can be viewed as anything more than cheap entertainment.
Perhaps it seems strange to fault a film for being nothing more than entertainment. Yet when it comes to depicting the horrors of World War II, film does indeed have a duty to uphold. Historical accuracy is primary, but also needed are attempts at preserving the fragments and complexities that make up war. Exploration of these aspects not only strengthens what we know of the war, but also creates the opportunity for an audience to consider perspectives beyond those typically framed by the standard war film.
For its part, Overlord is above and beyond the standard war film, playing out like a feverish dream and toying with the intimacy one might experience from secretly reading someone’s diary. The film practically breathes, it’s so deeply entrenched in what it means for a young man to literally hand over his life to the state in a time of war. Melding actual archival World War II footage into the film, Overlord riffs on neo-realism several decades after it was made fashionable by filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini and Kenji Mizoguchi. The story follows Tom, a quiet 20-year-old, as he’s called up for basic training before ultimately taking part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
The film itself is pure poetry: from the direction, to the dialogue to the seamless integration of archival war footage alongside the brilliant camera work of cinematographer John Alcott. All of it induces a powerful range of emotions: confusion, fear, love, innocence lost, helplessness and finally a morose acceptance of it all. As Tom submits himself to the state’s will, he’s become what he’s trained to be: a soldier; an empty vessel designed strictly to complete an objective, come what may.
Though Overlord doesn’t investigate the war as a whole, it does a superb job of investigating a life – a single solitary life, and what it means to simply relinquish that life for what would be considered a greater cause. In the process of this, Overlord makes no judgements on these circumstances, but it does encourage its audience above all, to feel.