“The ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Come and See might be the best war film I’ve seen. Devoid of the trappings of heroism or nobility that we lay over the chaos once it has ended, Come and See is the pure horror of war.
There’s more than a bit of a dichotomy with war films, especially with American war films. Soul-searching anti-war goes to Vietnam. Gritty heroism in the face of evil goes to World War II. Regardless of style or genre, we eternally celebrate the fact that we fought.
Come and See – a Soviet film about a Belorussian boy who joins a partisan militia to fight the Nazis – is completely devoid of such self-congratulations.
It’s psychological horror – closer to Tarkovsky or David Lynch than Spielberg or Eastwood. It traumatizes the viewer. Rather than ‘putting us on the battlefield’ in a naturalistic, Red Badge of Courage way, it puts us inside the mind and body of a young boy losing at first his smile, then his innocence, then his hope, then his sanity.
Klimov uses precisely the right tool at precisely the right time. He speeds up or slows down the action, uses realistic or exaggerated acting, and creates a chaos of oppressive sound while deepening our immersion. When Florya and Glasha trudge through the mud, we feel it. When Glasha dances, we watch with joy. When we witness the murders, we cry. Not out of a sense of mourning or injustice, but from the horrible question – is this the world? ‘the realization that we are in Hell and escape is only a fantasy.
A few decades from now, all the survivors of Nazism will have left us. Will documents like Come and See help prevent new generations from creating new horrors of their own?
“And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” – Revelation 6:7-8 KJV
I'm a journalist and film enthusiast who lives in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. I've been writing about movies for 15 years and I hosted a weekly movie review television show on UATV for two years.