In the chaos of battle, mistakes can be made. Oscar-nominated A War looks at some of the consequences of such mistakes on a very personal level. The film is from Danish director Tobias Lindholm who previously made a quite personal story about piracy in A Hijacking. Both stories focus on the people directly involved as well as others who are affected by the events.
Claus Petersen (Pilou Asbæk) is a Danish army company commander stationed in Afghanistan. He is a well-regarded officer. His wife (Tuva Novotny) is struggling at home trying to hold things together with their three children who miss their father. One day on patrol, Petersen and his men get caught in a firefight. Eventually he calls for a rocket against a building he thinks is occupied by the enemy. Sometime later, investigators begin asking questions because the house only had civilians. Eventually, Petersen is returned home—good for his family, but bad because he must face criminal charges and possibly jail for killing civilians. Where is the truth about what really happened? Who is to be held responsible when such a mistake is made? Should things that happen in the heat of battle even be judged by standards of normal morality?
Tobias doesn’t seek to deal with these questions at abstract levels, but through the eyes of Claus, his wife, and children and then, through the courtroom scenes, with society’s expectations of those involved in warfare. In an interview, Lindholm noted an appreciation for American films about the Vietnam War. He is not so much interested in whether Denmark’s involvement in the war is right or wrong, but what effect the country’s participation in the war has on their collective conscious.
The film divides into three sections: a war film, a family story, and a courtroom drama. Yet, the concept of morality is at the center of all of them. This is not about a persecution. In fact, Claus is as appalled by what happened as anyone. Even his children are affected by the events that happened half a world away. At one point his daughter asks, “Is it true you killed children?” How should he try to answer such a question? What responsibility does he have to be honest—to the court or to his daughter?
A War offers viewers a chance to consider the extent we should apply concepts of morality in questions of war. But the film is not just about what is acceptable to do in battle, but also what responsibility the society has in the acts of soldiers who are there on our behalf. It is also about what responsibility we have to those soldiers, even if they may have done things that are questionable under the stress of battle.
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures