RP16: Graphic content may disturb
This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.
They Shall Not Grow Old is a World War 1 documentary entirely narrated from archival interviews with veterans of the Great War. Accompanying their layered voices is digitally processed footage and photographs from the early 1900s. The film brings the Western Front to life by adding sound to the old film stock, which has itself been renewed through digital colouring, and temporal effects to smooth out the irregular motion of films of that era. Beginning with veterans’ impressions of the outbreak of war, the film follows them through recruitment and training, and is alongside them in the trenches and battlefields of Western Europe, until they return home, forever changed.
Date registered: 31/10/2018
Following the slow build to deployment on the Western Front, the Great War is described and portrayed as horrific, layering soldiers’ stories with confronting scenes of injury and death. As veterans narrate their experiences in battle, the effect is both disturbing and sobering. Their voices catch as they recall both allies and enemies who suffered truly horrific injuries, with tales of displayed organs and the fear of those who have been mortally wounded. These accounts are accompanied by a repeated and sustained montage of drawings depicting the war effort, warm close ups of smiling soldiers, and photos of soldiers killed in combat. Through layered audio and the constant cycling of heroic imagery, humanised video, and images of death, this sequence grants a glimpse into the sheer scale and horror of war. The overall effect is disturbing, but not inuring – the anti-war message is clear.
Amongst the more confronting images in the documentary are close up photographs of soldiers with trench foot, revealing gruesome details of blackened and sloughed flesh. Torn skin and fleshy holes are visible on horses killed by gunfire or shelling, while killed soldiers may be seen to be missing limbs. Numerous bodies are seen rotting in the mud, and some corpses have absent flesh, torn away by gunfire. Yet most of the gruesome wounds are softened by not only the smaller film stock of the time, with the recolouring respecting the limited detail of these images, but also the moderate distance from which many of the photographs had been taken. Nonetheless as real images of death, they retain their power to shock and disturb any audience – especially given the time the viewer spends listening and watching those involved in the war.
The images and descriptions of injury, suffering and death would be especially upsetting to younger audiences, who are less emotionally developed to properly deal with this content.
However, with the considerable educational and historic value of the documentary in mind, and its relevance to the many New Zealanders who had family that served in the Great War, it is unreasonable to restrict it from an audience who, with the guidance of a parent or guardian, would be better equipped for the more challenging content. As a result, They Shall Not Grow Old was classified as RP16 – restricting the film to people aged sixteen and over, unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.