Alan Went to War: #Reviewing Goodbye Christopher Robin

Goodbye Christopher Robin [Motion Picture]. Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, and Alex Lawther, and Simon Curtis (Director). United Kingdom: Glassworks Media. 

Alan went to war. Some of him came back. He assumes his old place in society, aside his beautiful wife he tries to blend in and pick up where he left off. But he can’t. While he was in the trenches the world has moved on without him.

Alan has a lot to say, but he can’t. Not because of him—he is a very articulate guy, a playwright, actually—but because no one would listen. You see, Alan is back to polite society where one doesn’t speak of unpleasant things, and war is an unpleasant thing. And besides, war is over they say, never to return, and there is no need to talk about its follies or its horrors anyway. It is best to leave it all behind, to lie with the dead.

So Alan is left unheard, not understood, with life happening around him and people ignoring his small idiosyncrasies—his fear of loud, sudden noises, large crowds or sudden blubbering about rotting corpses and what was it all for anyway. All he has is that silent understanding shared by those who were there—with whom all it takes is a look, a nod, a word—Somme, Paschendale, the War. But Alan can’t stay silent. He is angry. He thinks it was all for not, a game for those who were not there themselves, and worst yet, he is certain that it will all return. So he goes to the country and tries to write something, anything, to prevent it from happening to anybody else, ever:  to show everyone that war is an experiment never to be attempted again.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a movie about war. It is also a movie about a society in denial, where the wounds of war are ever-present, but unseenin those who came back, but also in those who were left behind waiting for them.

Despite his great talent with words, he can’t find ones to match what he has been through. So he does what anyone who has ever had a writer's block did before and after him—he writes something else, unrelated, and sinks himself into it. In Alan’s case, it is children's stories. Not any kind of stories, but those about a boy and his bear inspired by his only son.,

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a movie about war., a war so big, so terrible, that it defies description. It is also a movie about a society in denial, where the wounds of war are ever-present, but unseen—in those who came back, but also in those who were left behind waiting for them. It is about expectant mothers who are praying for girls since girls can’t go to war, so one can love them without fear of the future. It is about fathers who can never forget those sounds and smells, that constantly go back there from over here, even when playing with their kids.

The movie is about anger and frustration so raw that only a return to the most innocent childhood can cover but never truly heal. Yet, it is also about the deep roots of war. About child play with swords and about dreaming of knights or talking about ambushes and flanking—even by those who were there and saw it in the flash. And when war does return, it is those same fathers who are damned to send their sons off to what they know is Hell incarnate.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a nuanced movie since the best way to talk about war is in a nuanced manner. The big dry numbers are lost on people—one can’t grasp the millions, the faceless, uniformed icons, killed and wounded. The ferocity of war can never be truly described in anyway meaningful. On the contrary, the pyrotechnics of modern cinema might only cheapen it by making entertainment out of the unimaginable. Maybe war can better be understood by and about the individual. By one’s story; by one’s suffering. And the suffering that is best understood is not that experienced in war, but after it ends. It is also best understood by the suffering of loved ones; even those only born because of the war, never to be in it themselves.

This is also a movie about veterans being alone in a crowd, even in a society that was wholly and completely at war, with the reaper visiting every household—from those upon the throne to those in the dungeon—sometimes, more than once. And it is a movie about the eternity of war. About war’s eventual rise from the ashes, even in countries it struck mercilessly just a couple of decades before.

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) with Domhall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, and Will Tilston. (IMDB)

It is a humble movie. Produced by a small British studio—DJ Films—and distributed by Fox Searchlight, this move doesn’t contain big names or glitzy special effects. Despite that, it is well rounded. The plot is flowing well, the dialogues are reliable, the scenes are well built and filmed. However, it has no pantheon worthy moments—either in acting, photography or sound. It is a movie about people and as such, it is driven mostly by its characters.

These characters are all very likable and all are well acted, even young Christopher Robin. One might even say that some of the characters in the movie got a better treatment than they deserved, given the psychological scars the actual Christopher Robin had to deal with following his very public childhood.

Besides its plot and its message, one of its best qualities is the general success in avoiding the usual traps and clichés involved in speaking about the war, or about those who fought in it. All in all, though, if not for its message and treatment of the war and veterans, it is a good movie, but not a very memorable one. It will probably not appear in anyone’s top ten, or even top 100, movies to watch.

Despite this, people should watch this movie, as memory and knowledge of war are becoming an ever-distant memory, shared by an ever-smaller number of people. This movie should give the lie to those who glorify the service, to those who think that mandatory, universal, enlistment is a magical instrument which somehow unifies society, reduces the chances or incentives for war or that it lifts a burden off of veterans making it easier for them to come back to society.[1]

The truth is, these prescriptions have been tried before and achieved neither. That war is part and parcel of our human nature is an inescapable calamity. As a result, the military is a necessary instrument of the state and in a society mostly at peace, there is little chance of change to its inherent separation from the society from which it is formed. But societies who can rejoice in their good fortunes that enabled them to minimize their carnal knowledge of it. And those who are serving should remember with advantages and take pride in their role; allowing gentlemen and women to look upon their babies now a-bed, without having the thought lingering in the back of their mind, “Would I ever have to send them off to war.”

Shmuel Shmuel is an analyst at the Israeli Defense Force’s Dado Center and reservist in the Israeli Defense Force. He wrote his graduate thesis about the training and education of knights in the 12-14th centuries. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent those of the Dado Center, the Israeli Defense Force, or the Government of Israel.

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[1] Josh Rogin, “McChrystal: Time to bring back the draft”, Foreign Policy, 03 July 2012, ; Joseph Epstein, “How I Learned to Love the Draft”, The Atlantic, January/February 2015,

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