Who else is suffering? Representation of suffering in film media

Today, our Facebook feeds are filled with images of war torn countries and injured children; cries for help in a time of war. We switch on the news at night and hear about the latest ISIS attack or bombing in Syria. Due to the emergence of social media as a source of news, whether we like it or not we are exposed to images of the suffering of those in war torn countries. There is no longer a distinct battle front and home front; they are one in the same. However, war movies, a different type of media tend to focus on the battle front rather than the home front. They usually focus on the hardships endured by soldiers rather then the impact of war on the soldiers’ families, civilians and the home front. The idea of war and suffering has been romanticized in some films and television mini-series. Let’s have a look at some examples.



Birdsong (2012)

Birdsong follows the story of a British soldier fighting on the battlefront in France during World War I (WWI). During his time in France, he falls in love and has an affair with a beautiful French woman. The film depicts graphic details of the battlefront, trench warfare and life in the trenches on the Western Front. While doing so, the series also romanticizes suffering with the help of lighting, music and camera angles. For example, the light in this screencap makes Redmayne seem almost majestic on a battlefield full of deceased soldiers.

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Even this close-up has something beautiful about it.

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The intertwining of love and war further enhances the romanticism of suffering in Birdsong. Stephen is torn between forbidden love and war; each causing him emotional and physical pain. He wishes to be with his love but must defend his country in war.


Like most war movies, Birdsong only depicts one side of the story: in this case, British experience on the Western Front. It only conveys the suffering endured by a small percentage of those involved in WWI: soldiers on the Western Front. Although primary sources reveal the incredibly harsh conditions endured by soldiers on the Western Front in WWI, the media fails to show the impact of war on the home fronts: food shortages, imposition of new laws, broken families etc. Despite various primary sources disclosing details of life on various home fronts during WWI, film media fails to depict this. Suffering on the home fronts cannot be dismissed.


Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss- a conscientious objector who volunteered to serve in the US army but refused to carry weapons. Despite not carrying any weapons, he saved the lives of many soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge. Like Birdsong, Hacksaw Ridge appears to focus more on the suffering endured by soldiers on the battle front than civilians on the home front. However the battle scenes are much more graphic and violent. Technology is constantly evolving and provides producers and directors with more creative freedom. Consequently, the battle scenes in Hacksaw Ridge are “brutal, unwatchably violent” (Bradshaw 2017). Bradshaw compares the film to a second world war horror film and believes that the excessive violence is there to make up for Doss’ lack of violence (2017).


In 2017, the nature of warfare has changed. There is no longer a distinct “battle front” and “home front”; war can be fought anywhere at any time by anyone. People choose their sides, gather their weapons and fight. Innocent civilians are either injured, killed or displaced. We see images of this regularly on social media. Social media enables us to witness the suffering endured by innocent civilians, many of whom are forced to flee their homes and find safety. Despite this, many films created in the 2010’s that are centered around war tend to focus on action and violence. However, due to the sophistication of technology and access to primary sources via social media, I believe that war movies will no longer focus solely on the hardships faced by soldiers. It is likely that they will begin to depict both sides or draw more attention to the challenging circumstances faced by civilians: the injured children and devastated towns that we see on social media everyday.




Wollaston, S 2012, ‘TV Review: Birdsong; Earthflight’, The Guardian, 30th January, accessed 25th April, available from



Bradshaw, P 2017, ‘Hacksaw Ridge Review- Mel Gibson’s war drama piles on the gore’, The Guardian, accessed 25th April, available from



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