“In this presentation, I argue that They Shall Not Grow Old offers a parallel track of memory references within the film itself, a shadow narrative that emerges for the viewer who is familiar with heightened moments of psychic extremity depicted in the history of the war film.
The experience of psychological trauma is registered not in the multitude of interviews with surviving veterans, but as a formal disturbance in the film, in the nearly obsessive repetition of certain shots and images.
Almost as if the film were restaging a haunted return, certain images and gestures are repeated again and again, rehearsed with an insistence that seems to call out for recognition — scenes that speak to us not in the voices of the interviewees, now settled into late middle age or older, but rather through a different mode of expression, through repeated shots of direct address to the camera.
These recurrent shots, underlined by the filmmaker, Peter Jackson, evoke the figurative memory of other films, other visual representations, embedded in the genre language of war cinema and photography, forming a secondary narrative memory space that allows us to read the archival images of the past in a different light.”
Robert Burgoyne is a writer and lecturer whose work centers on the theory and representation of history in film. The author of five books and numerous essays, his work has been translated into eight languages.
He has lectured in thirteen countries. He was formerly Chair in Film Studies at The University of St Andrews, and Professor of English and Film Studies at Wayne State University.
He is currently working on a book length project on post 9/11 American war films, provisionally entitled The Body at Risk: War Cinema in the 21st Century.
You can watch the seminar, which took place online on 9 March 2021, via the link below.