Let’s think about WWI.

Benediction is a dreamy film that follows the life of Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) from when he objects to the conditions of the war (and is thus put in a mental institution) to his later life. Sassoon is an interesting character, and the film wants us to see this wounded spirit try to make sense of the world.

The early film shines as a confident but hurt Sassoon interacts with the gentle Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson). Owen, who is sent back to the war and dies shortly before the war ends becomes largely an afterthought–as does much of the early narrative.

Once outside the hospital, we follow Sassoon as he moves from new relationship to new relationship with various men before capitulating and marrying a woman and having a child. The film wants to show us the world, but ends up telling us more of the drama. The relationships falter and move on, the high society in which Sassoon exists seems vapid and hollow. What does it all mean? I’m not sure.

Director Terence Davies is more concerned with making us feel with Sassoon (and Lowden is impeccable in the role) than giving us a true autobiography. Years pass in what feels like moments, and in the end we aren’t really sure what we experienced. I get the impression Davies wanted us to see these men trying to drink, write, and screw their pain away, but the film wants to remain so neutral that nothing seems to stick.

I found the story frustrating despite wanting to love it. We have two steps forward and two steps backward at just about every turn. Fantastic acting and dialogue is marred by odd pacing and questionable CGI. Themes appear and disappear for swathes of the story, and at many points the phantom of war trauma seems completely forgotten. Poignant scenes are followed by hollow ones. Beautiful poetry is followed by empty conversation. 

What annoyed me the most was the treatment of homosexuality in the film. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to see gay characters allowed to be gay. It is nice that we have an accurate portrayal of relations, but we have an inaccurate view of society. The rampant danger and homophobia of society is mentioned, and we do get an early scene where a military officer chastises Sassoon, but after his release from the hospital he and his friends seem out and proud. The problem here is that we are constantly told of the dangers gay men faced in this period, and these dangers are real, but not shown for… reasons? The reality the film wants us to see simply isn’t shown. We’re told about the dangers, sure, but no evidence is given.

I wanted to love this film and simply didn’t. I liked moments of it but the overall experience seemed somehow hollow. It was too tightly carved and too distant to connect with. I know I am in the minority with not liking it but I just didn’t connect. 

I’d say skip it.

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