Empire of the Sun. Number 21 on my list of 100 greatest movies. My grandfather was an American pilot who died in the Second World War and this post is for him and everybody else who gave their lives to fight for peace and freedom. Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, so I thought today’s post should be about a Second World War film. We all have a lot to be thankful for today.
What is it I like about this film? Apart from being utterly beautiful, in terms of cinematography, it’s about people and how they adapt/survive in awful circumstances. The protagonist in this film being a schoolboy, Jamie Graham.
Opening line of narration: “In 1941 China and Japan had been in a state of undeclared war for four years. A Japanese army of occupation was in control of much of the countryside and many towns and cities. In Shanghai thousands of Westerners, protected by the diplomatic security of the International Settlement, continued to live as they had lived since the British came here in the 19th century and built in the image of their own country… built banking houses, hotels, offices, churches and homes that might have been uprooted from Liverpool or Surrey. Now their time was running out. Outside Shanghai the Japanese dug in and waited… for Pearl Harbour.”
Jamie lives a privileged existence with his British parents in colonial Shanghai. Other than attending his prep school, he spends no time outside his grand home, or knows of any Chinese culture. He is also rude to the Chinese servants.
Jamie loves aeroplanes and dreams of joining the Japanese airforce, something his Father finds rather disturbing.
When the Japanese occupy Shanghai, Jamie is in the car with his Mother and the streets fill with scared and fleeing locals. The car gets swamped so they have to get out. Jamie drops his toy plane and lets go of his mother’s hand and they get separated. It is pretty harrowing to watch since becoming a mother myself.
Jamie meets an American, Basie (played wonderfully by John Malkovich). Out of need for survival he teams up with him. Basie doesn’t really have any morals as such, but Jamie soon learns this is the way of the world at war, the world completely removed from his old life. Basie renames Jamie as ‘Jim’.
Eventually Basie and Jim end up in a PoW camp. Jim meets the kindly Dr Rawlins (Nigel Havers) who tries to give him some purpose and normality because he realises he is quite clearly not okay after his trauma.
Jim: “I can’t remember what my parents look like.”
I don’t want to reveal any more of the story from this point on because I think if you haven’t seen this film before, it will spoil it for you. If you cry easily, the ending will have you reaching for tissues. Christian Bale is outstanding and the supporting cast are all brilliant too. It is interesting to watch a Second World War movie that isn’t about Germany/Europe for a change. Being in Europe, we can forget that it was a world war. I don’t think Steven Spielberg would have made Schindler’s List if he hadn’t of made Empire of the Sun first. This movie put Spielberg in the rare category of directors that can do popcorn (such as Jaws) brilliantly, but can also tell a serious story too.
Trivia: There is a scene where Jim’s parents tuck him into bed. This is taken from a Norman Rockwell painting entitled “Freedom from Fear”. Jim’s father is even holding a newspaper like the father in the painting. The only difference is, in the painting there are two children.