Directed by Peter Weir and released in 1981, Gallipoli follows the journey of two young Australian men, Archy and Frank, in their quest to do their bit for their country. The film opens with young Archy Hamilton (18) training with his uncle for the 100-meter run. Archy is said to be the fastest kid in Western Australia and is going to compete in his first race in a few days.
The night before the race, Archy’s uncle reads the story of Mowgli from the Jungle Book to Archy’s younger relatives. Mowgli’s character represents a coming of age story which foreshadows the same loss of innocence Archy is to experience. This indeed comes true as Archy ends up leaving his uncle after winning the race to join up. Originally, Archy is rejected from the Light Horse in his hometown (the company Archy is trying to fight with) for being underage. This is when Archy meets his new mate Frank Dunne who at first provides a stark contrast to Archy’s character as he does not see the point in joining up as it is “England’s war.” However, after enough societal pressure from Archy and others, Frank decides to join too. The two travel together to Frank’s hometown of Perth in order to try and join the Light Horse again. Archy succeeds, but Frank is rejected because he cannot get his horse to move. The two are eventually reunited in Egypt at training camp as Frank joins up in the infantry. The two spend weeks there training and building relationships with other comrades such as Snowy, Barney, and Bill. Soon after, Archy and Dunne’s companies are sent to Gallipoli, a peninsula in Turkey.
Here, the Anzacs (Australians and New Zealanders) and English are fighting to overtake Turkish resistance over the Dardanelles and Bosporus channels which Churchill (English Lord of the Admiralty) thought were vital to supply Russia with ammunitions. The fighting is brutal and the Turkish soldiers have a much better position. In a last ditch attempt to overtake the Turkish line, the colonel of the brigade, Colonel Robinson, orders an attack on the Turkish line. There was supposed to be an artillery strike on the Turkish soldiers and then a rush of infantry. Because of mistimed communications and the stubbornness of Colonel Robinson, the infantry does not rush out soon enough after the artillery strike so the Turkish opposition have time to regroup and load their machine guns. As a result, the Anzac men are sent out into a senseless slaughter. Colonel Robinson was informed that an Anzac flag was seen in one of the Turkish trenches even though this was not true. He tells Major Barton to keep ordering his infantry over the wall despite major losses. At the same time, Dunne, has been tasked as a communications runner. Dunne is aware of all of this and instead advises Barton to go over the colonel’s head. He complies and Dunne is sent to ask the general of all of the brigades at Gallipoli to reconsider the attack. However, the only way to do this was to run down to the beach from the trench and ask him in person. After reaching the general, Dunne is told to tell Barton to stop sending his men, but right before Dunne can make it back, the final line of men including Archy are sent out to their death. The movie ends with Archy running towards the Turkish trench where he is the last to be cut down. As he is hit, he leans back which draws parallels to breaking the tape at the end of a 100-meter race, his staple.
There are many parallels between this movie and the literature we have read and discussed in class.
For one, the generational divide and power dynamics we discussed in class are evident in this film. Due to miscommunications between higher powers, the young soldiers including Archy are sent out to die. This film illustrates a war that was not started by the younger generation, but seems to only have impacts on them. The senselessness and unfairness of this is a common theme in World War I films and books, but is best represented by the young infantry men being sent to die essentially by their own colonel.
The acting in this film is also very well done. Each character plays an important symbolic role, and they all play them to perfection. Snowy and Archy represent citizens who are all for the war and see it as their duty to their country (similar to the B.F.). This is exhibited by Archy’s and Snowy’s cheerful attitudes toward the war and Snowy’s line where he says they must do their bit for their country. Dunne symbolizes a wary citizen not sure if they are for the war, but are eventually convinced to join due to societal pressures. All of the older men symbolize the older generation who pressured their sons into war and caused them to be known as “the lost generation.”
The film, while dramatized, is based upon true stories from the battles that occurred at Gallipoli. However, one major historical inaccuracy can be observed after further research. In the film, the Battle of Nek (where Archy dies) is said to be a distraction so British forces can land at a nearby destination called Sulva. This is in fact inaccurate as the battle was actually a distraction for a New Zealand attack on Sari Bair. While this does not take away from the deep levels of sadness the audience feels after watching the movie, it does lend itself as a potential issue with the film that may lead to some unhappy Brits.
Overall, Gallipoli can be characterized as a gut-wrenching coming of age film that displays both the highs and lows of war. The importance of the camaraderie between men is demonstrated throughout the film as it is with books we have read this semester such as All Quiet on the Western Front. However, the horrors of war stand out more as the film lends itself to the pathos of the audience and creates a lasting feeling of sorrowfulness due to the death of the protagonist.
Gallipoli, Directed by Peter Weir, Austrlian Film Commisson, 1981.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, January 19). Gallipoli (1981 film). Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallipoli_(1981_film)
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