For many, childhood is a war: a battle of wills with adults, a rage against growing up, a fight against awakening into the violent world of adulthood. It’s not surprising then that many of the greatest films about childhood and coming of age take place against the backdrop of actual wars. Three of the top five films in my list of the 41 greatest films about childhood involve war and how children and adults learn to deal with it in different ways. Many of the films on this list (including the film at number one) are no doubt sentimental favorites (arguments could easily be made there are grander artistic achievements further down the list). It should come as no surprise that these sentimental favorites were first seen in childhood and that many of the films come from directors delving deep into the wellspring of nostalgia and semi-autobiography; those indelible moments from our shared childhoods crystalized onto the silver screen.
I was about the same age as the protagonist, Billy Rohan, when I first saw John Boorman’s Hope and Glory. I loved every bit of it, and even at that young age I knew there was something unique about its point of view. It painted war as how I imagined I (as a child at the time) would’ve reacted to it: a blast of excitement in an otherwise mundane suburban life previously populated by games and make-believe. Here my soldiers and toys had come to life, dirigibles suspended in air over my streets, German bombers flying overhead, danger and adventure lying in the rubble of my neighbors demolished homes. The juxtaposition of adult horrors and children’s games (a juxtaposition dealt with far more seriously and catastrophically in films like Forbidden Games and Come and See) resulted in a picture of scrappy, working-glass survivors striving for a sense of normalcy and return to innocence in a world gone stark raving mad. Continue reading