The paper "Theater of War, a Documentary Film Directed by John Walter" is a great example of an assignment on visual arts and film studies. The documentary analyzes a play that was written in Germany in the late 1930s. The film is divided into five “acts” to emulate a play. It begins with Meryl Streep, the actress who played “Mother Courage” in 2006, discussing an experience she had in Germany. She visited a church and the caretaker, whom she describes as “creepy,” takes her to the basement where rows of skulls and bones are stacked neatly. He explains that these are the results of war. When the war was over, his “family business” would collect the remains and grow their collection of bones. At the end of the documentary, Meryl Streep comes full circle with the story. She states that she wanted to perform in the play in order to illustrate the feeling mothers have when they are told their child has been killed in war: “why?” Meryl answers that the only reason she can think of is to add to the bone collection that she saw at the old church. The documentary focuses on the play “Mother Courage” and provides an interesting comparison of war to modern life as compared to war during previous generations.
- Please address what type of genre of theatre you feel best describes this body of work and support your thoughts?
The documentary about the play “Mother Courage and Her Children” could most likely be categorized as a morality play. A morality play is a play in which the characters represent something greater than themselves. The characters in this play portray themes of morality. In the documentary, Meryl Streep says she represents “the voice of the dead,” or victims of war. Her character symbolizes a greater theme. She represents a great number of people who died in a “war of ideas,” as she puts it.
The play also contains humor and music, giving it levity a lot of morality plays do not possess. The way that Mother Courage handles her son “Swiss Cheese’s” death is to sing a humorous song about “where there’s a will there’s away.” Even though she had obviously been affected by her son’s death, she chooses to deal with it her way. In a way, reality seems too difficult to deal with so she uses humor to be able to handle the horrific events that occur each day.
- Compare current events, which you feel, are similar to the lives that can be compared to the Mother Courage and Her Children?
The Iraq War is brought up at the beginning of the documentary, so that is an obvious comparison, along with the conflict in Afghanistan. I think a lot of military families could compare their experiences to Mother Courage and her children. In most modern situations, the father goes to war and the mother is left at home trying to take care of the children. It seems like the mother in this play is just trying to take care of her family and profit from the war at the same time. I’ve known military families who get themselves into a lot of credit card debt and then feel relieved when the father gets deployed. A soldier at war makes a lot more money than when they are at home.
Another very current event that the documentary talks about in “act 3” is protesting. The documentary was made in 2006, well before the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that are occurring today. I think it is very interesting that the man being interviewed said that the most effective way to protest is through direct political action, not by blocking entrances. This is something I agree with. The United States is a democracy, and protestation is one of our freedoms. However, if more people voted than protested perhaps that would be more effective to bring about change.
- Pick a character from the play and compare them to someone you personally know and describe why they are similar.
Mother Courage reminds me of my own mother. In the first scene, she chased off the recruiters with a knife when they suggested that her sons fight in the war. She is like a mother bear, scrappy and willing to do anything to protect her children. In this way, she is similar to my mother. However, my own mother did not perk up at the suggestion of making a dollar as Mother Courage did. Also, the way she takes the one character under her wing shows that she cares about other people. She acts tough, but her actions show that she is willing to put herself out there to support another person who is not her child.
- Would you like or not like to see a production of this play in your local theatre?
I think it depends on the region. If this play were to come to a southern, conservative state in the U.S., I think many of its themes might be lost or unappreciated. Places, where people are against gun control and believe in the death penalty, are probably more likely to be advocates of war in general. If the play were to come to a city like Chicago, I think it would be welcomed and supported because large cities like Chicago are usually more progressive and open-minded. I found it interesting that the play originated in war-torn Berlin. It is almost like the people who understood the play’s message the most were the first ones to host it. What is most interesting to me is that its themes are still pertinent over seventy years later. I like the way Meryl Streep put it at the beginning of the documentary. She referred to wars being fought over interpretations of the Bible and shook her head in utter disbelief.
- Why or why not would this play's message be important for your community?
The message of this play is important for any community. The play offers an anti-war perspective in an entertaining but educational way. Any play that logically and coherently presents a pertinent perspective is important. Theater in any community is important, and not just for entertainment purposes. A community that educates its members on new perspectives is more open-minded. Even today, this play’s message is valid. The setting of the play was the 1500’s if I remember correctly, and it was written in the 1930s. War has always existed, throughout the recorded history of man. In a perfect world, people would think rationally and be able to build bridges between cultures. Instead, we fight over ideals. As Meryl Streep said, we fight over interpretations of the Bible. Can Americans even explain why U.S. military forces are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? War is not logical, but it is instinctual and inevitable. War is what man does. The more educated we become, the more we can work to prevent it. But it will never go completely away.