War On Film: Come and See

Andrew reviews one of the most harrowing war films ever made, Come and See.

"Yes, I know. I've lost a lot of
weight since this god forsaken
war started! Now, sign
ze' papers!!!

Come and See is a WWII film directed by Elem Klimov, and it's his only feature film to date. It focuses on a young Russian boy who enlists in the army to fight the Nazis and his horrific first-hand experiences.  More than any other film made about the Second World War, Come and See conveys the cumulative shell-shock impact war and genocide have on an ordinary person. 

It follows protagonist Flyora through his gradual progression from an enlistee in the Soviet Partisan forces to that of a battered and broken refugee. After losing his hearing (and soon his sanity) to a nearby explosion on the battlefield, he attempts to reunite with his family alongside a beautiful young girl named Glasha. During his sojourn through war torn, Nazi occupied Russia, he encounters and narrowly escapes a massacre of Russian civilians as bullets fly about his head. 

Come and See, which takes its name from the Book of Revelation, is less about the logistics and historical bullet points of the war and combat battles, than it is a portrayal of Hell on Earth.  While reenacting several of the Nazi party's worst atrocities and the terror of evading Nazi pursuit, Come and See also takes place largely within the mind of Flyora and his gradually deteriorating psyche. After his deafening experience on the battlefield, the film takes on a muffled ambiance of dread and unease as the horrors around Flyora drive him closer and closer to utter madness.

Tom Hank's shell-shock moments in Saving Private Ryan very clearly had their inspiration here. Word has it that director Klimov utilized hypnotizing techniques on the young actor playing Flyora to create a realistic thousand yard gaze into the abyss. The film also frequently makes use of surrealism to convey the war experience as sensory overload. Not since Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalpyse Now has war been seen as such a fantasia of fire, darkness, death and insanity. 
"I take your picture. It will last longer."
By placing the viewer within the shoes of Flyora, we're allowed to view war through the naivete of a child's eyes, not fully comprehending the ghastly horrors all around him. Even when Flyora happens upon a raped and bloodied Glasha, it only passes by his eyes as one of many atrocities. Unlike other treatments of the Holocaust such as Schindler's List, with its heavy emotionalism and realistic approach to the material, Come and See tries to convey with cold, distant precision what it must have felt like to experience it first hand; not so much in what is seen, but in how the accumulation of unspeakable horrors take their toll on the fragile human mind.

Working to de-spectacle the war experience, you will most likely leave Come and See a changed person, unable to look at the world the same way again. It doesn't aim to shock you as much as it realistically creates a perspective of the war, and all the psychological torment associated with it.  When Klimov was asked why he only made one feature film, it's unsurprising that he admitted to feeling like “everything that was possible I felt I had already done”.  In a sense, Come and See is kind of a penultimate film, a once in a lifetime experience that will leave you as altered as it does its hero.

-Andrew Kotwicki