They Shall Not Grow Old Parent Guide
One of the best documentary films ever made, this combines awe-inspiring technical achievement with emotionally powerful human experience.
Parent Movie Review
Director Peter Jackson, best known for fantasy blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and King Kong has made his mark on the world of documentary filmmaking with the debut of They Shall Not Grow Old. This stunning documentary about the experience of British infantrymen in the Great War, combines remastered archival footage from the Imperial War Museum and narration from veterans of the war in a completed product that is both technically awe-inspiring and emotionally moving.
It is difficult to overstate the extraordinary technical achievement this film represents. The footage has been masterfully colorized and brought up to a consistent modern frame rate (24 frames per second), giving the footage an immediacy not always possible with jerky black and white images. For the audience, it is startling to see images from a past century jump to life as if they were shot last week. At the screening I attended, the film’s transition from black and white to color was met with audible gasps from everyone, including me, as men long dead leaped into focus.
They Shall Not Grow Old is not simply a technical masterpiece. It is also emotionally powerful, thanks to some savvy directorial decisions on the part of Jackson. First, there is no narration, sparing audiences whatever B-list celebrity the average documentary can afford. The only narration is from World War I veterans recounting their own experiences, providing very human stories from the people who lived them. Second, to get further into the experiences of the men on the film footage, Jackson hired forensic lip-readers to determine what people were saying in the archival shots. With the dialog set, Jackson then hired voice actors from the regions matching the regiments to ensure the accents would be correct. The effect is electrifying as those who died decades ago suddenly come to life and seem so much more real than they might have in silent, stuttering, black and white footage. When the film indicates a man’s death it becomes an intensely personal event for anyone watching, cementing a very real feeling of emotional attachment to history.
This is definitely not a movie for young children. With older kids in mind, parents’ only area of concern might be the gruesome images of gore and death which occur frequently in the film. Little violence is shown, but its results are graphic. Small or sensitive children and teens may wish to avoid seeing some of the footage of corpses and injuries. Otherwise the film is remarkably suitable for all audiences, with almost no profanity of any description and no sexual content to speak of.
Obviously, this is an invaluable resource for teachers. By humanizing the past to this extent, They Shall Not Grow Old has become one of the most important documentary films ever made, thanks to its ability to connect with its audiences at a deep, emotional level. The movie does not refer to strategy, tactics, or battlefields in France, but focuses entirely on personal experiences at the front lines. Ironically, by focusing on personal stories and not on what is normally considered to be history, They Shall Not Grow Old is a powerful historical film and a long overdue tribute to the men who fought and died in “the war to end all wars”. Thanks to Peter Jackson for making possible the final lines of the poem from which his title was taken, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.”Directed by Peter Jackson. Running time: 99 minutes. Theatrical release December 27, 2018. Updated December 31, 2018
Watch the trailer for They Shall Not Grow Old
They Shall Not Grow Old
Rating & Content Info
Why is They Shall Not Grow Old rated R? They Shall Not Grow Old is rated R by the MPAA for disturbing war images
Violence: Being entirely archival footage, all of the following shots contain real people. There are images of corpses in varying positions, including stuck on barbed wire, lying in stagnant water and shell craters, covered in flies and rats, and in varying states of decay, typically showing serious injuries and blood. Given its scarcity, only two shots of actual combat are shown, and in one a man and several horses are killed by artillery fire. There is a shot showing advanced trench foot and gangrene. There are a few shots showing men suffering the effects of a gas attack.
Sexual Content: No sexual activity is shown. There are brief shots of men’s buttocks. There is a brief reference to brothels, but nothing explicit is said.
Profanity: Almost none. Several uses of profanity in the “mild” category.
Alcohol / Drug Use: A few images of men drinking beer socially. Occasionally individuals are shown smoking cigarettes, as was common at the time. There is reference to rum being distributed as an analgesic, and to make men braver in over-the-top trench raids.
Page last updated December 31, 2018
They Shall Not Grow Old Parents' Guide
What caused the First World War? Are some of those same factors at play today? How could the Great War have been prevented? What were the consequences of that war? When we learn about wars, we often just hear about grand strategy and generals. What does this film do differently?
Read books about They Shall Not Grow Old
There is an abundance of excellent books about the First World War. If you want to understand the causes of the conflict, try Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. She also book-ended the war with Paris 1919, a detailed look at the Treaty of Versailles and its contributions to the next global conflict.
Barbara W Tuchman’s The Guns of August tells the story of the first 30 days of the war in a fascinating non-fiction account.
Wars inevitably spawn memoirs and Robert Graves’ Good-Bye to All That remains a classic depiction of life in the trenches of the Western Front. Another classic, this time from a German perspective, is Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, which tells the story of a young man’s disenchantment with war. A lyrical look at the soldier’s experience can be found in The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. Written by a British soldier who died at the front, the haunting poems have forever immortalized the horrors of war.
Famous author Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms was largely based on his personal experiences as an ambulance driver in Italy during 1918.
Related home video titles:
Looking for films about the First World War? War Horse tells the story of a young man and his horse, both on the Western Front. The war is brought down to a child’s level in Sgt Stubby: An American Hero. This animated film tells the story of the most decorated dog in American military history. Christmas on the front is the subject of Joyeux Noel, a stellar French production featuring soldiers from France, Germany, and Scotland.