This fantastic Russell Crowe film will make you shed a tear (unless you have a heart of stone, like me). If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read on because there are major spoilers coming right up. Make sure you have a tissue at hand! It is an appropriate time for this film to have been released, with the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Gallipoli coming up on 25 April.
Australian Joshua Connor sends his three sons off to war, telling the eldest to look after his brothers and bring them home. Of course, they don’t come home. Then in an emotive scene, his wife kills herself by drowning. I really felt for Joshua then, because not only has he lost his sons, but also his wife. His whole family has been decimated by war. He was obviously not enough for his wife in her grief over the three boys. (The film also highlights the church’s attitude to people who have died by suicide, denying them burial in consecrated ground).
So Joshua leaves Australia and becomes the only father that travels to Turkey looking for his sons. He is persistent in his search, with the owners of his hotel in Istanbul helping him find a way to Gallipoli, where he refuses to leave. A Turkish soldier, the enemy, is the one who takes pity on him and persuades the British soldiers to let him come along as they search for those killed. Humanity before allegiance, here.
Joshua has intuitions about his sons. He guides the team to the bodies of two of his sons, Ed and Henry, using skills that bear close resemblance to his water divining at the start of the film. The two brothers have been buried together, but Art is missing. Joshua dreams about him, believing him still to be alive, and eventually gathers information that he may have been taken prisoner.
When Joshua eventually finds Art, he believes he couldn’t come home without his brothers, and we see why. It is probably the most shocking part of the film: Art kills his brother, Henry, ending his suffering. No wonder he is plagued by guilt. We probably shouldn’t judge him too harshly, given the conditions of trench warfare, and the fact that Henry probably wouldn’t have survived anyway, but it is still difficult to have any empathy.
In good ‘happily ever after’ fashion, Art eventually leaves with his father, and they return to the hotel in Istanbul where the owner Ayshe makes Joshua a sweet cup of coffee, showing she wants to marry him. You might think Joshua deserves a little bit of happiness after the suffering he has endured thanks to war.