Having spent my pre-teen years in the time period of World War II, I have seen most of the films that have been made about The War. “Into the White,” however, has an unusual twist. It is a movie about war which is actually an anti-war film. Also, it is based on real events that took place in the year 1940. For these and several other reasons, I would rate it among the top five films that have been produced about World War II.
I do not have objections to sub-titles. They do not get in the way for me. They merely prevent me from multi-tasking while watching the movie, such as taking notes or playing computer games.
The actors are German, Norwegian, and British, and thus are not well known in this country, with the exception of Rupert Grint, who plays Smith in this film, but is more familiar to American audiences in his role as Ron in the Harry Potter series. He proves the diversity of his talent in this film.
Mock of the German Heinkel Shot Down - Wikimedia
Before the United States entered the war in 1941, Germany was taking steps to invade Norway, but was being thwarted by opposition forces, mainly the British. The story begins when a German plane crashed just after downing a British plane in Norwegian territory. After a long and treacherous walk through the snow, the German pilot, Horst Schopis, and his aides Josef Schwartz and Wolfgang Strunk came upon an empty deer hunter’s cabin which they were thrilled to occupy. They found some oats in the pantry, but they only had two matches on them to light a fire in the stove.
As they were becoming acclimated, the downed British pilot, Captain Davenport, and his gunner, Robert Smith, walked through the door of the cabin. It might be noted that the film retains the actual names of the German airmen, but uses aliases for the British.
German Officer in Uniform - Wikimedia
Since the Germans still have their guns and the British are unarmed, Lieutenant Schopis announces that the new arrivals are now prisoners of the Third Reich. He commands Davenport and Smith to occupy one part of the cabin and not to step onto the German side. There is an outhouse near the cabin, and the British are to ask permission to use it. Books and newspapers found in the cabin are used for toilet paper.
Schopis is happy to learn that Captain Davenport has a cigarette lighter and takes it from him with the promise that it will eventually be returned. They are short on firewood, and are forced to use the furniture, flooring, walls, and pillars gradually for that purpose. For their first meal, Schopis expects the enemy to eat while sitting on the floor. Davenport refuses, and he and Smith are invited to the table. All the men put on their dress uniforms for meals, which consist of the oats that were found in the pantry. The British are ordered to wash the dishes until Davenport points out that the dishes are on the German side of the cabin. For this chore, they are allowed to cross the line.
Schopis realizes that his compass is broken when he tries to find the coordinates to learn more about their location. He asks Carpenter if the scarf he is wearing is made of silk. He then rubs the needle with the silk scarf, which magnetizes the needle, making a temporary compass.
Rupert Grint as Smith
Smith relates to the others that he was supposed to be on a date that evening with Sheila. The men were curious about Sheila and how Smith met her. He told them that he was a dart champion in his neighborhood, and challenged the waitress Sheila to a game. She won three games from him. The Germans demanded that he show his skill at darts. Schopis gave him three bullets to throw at Josef’s buttons on his jacket. He successfully hit his mark on the first two. Schopis claimed he could not succeed with the third one. Smith deliberately threw it at Josef’s head which caused him a lot of pain. In the skirmish, Smith was able to seize Josef’s gun, thus altering the chain of command. Carpenter ordered the Germans to give up all their weapons and to change sides, giving the British the better beds and the upper hand.
Reindeer - Wikimedia
Hunting for Food
The only thing they had to eat now was the moss gathered from outside the cabin. In one of his frequent trips to the outhouse, Smith noticed a pack of reindeer walking by in the distance. He tried signaling the others to come and shoot one, but they could not hear him. Carpenter ordered Smith and Strunk to go out and shoot a reindeer. On their trek, Smith and Strunk struck up a friendship which continued thereafter.
While they were gone, Carpenter had ordered Schopis to chop down a pillar for firewood. Unfortunately, the pillar was a fundamental piece for holding up the roof. The two officers had to stand on chairs holding up the weak roof, which allowed Schopis the opportunity to steal Carpenter’s gun from his pocket. They did manage, however, to have a heart-to-heart talk during their arduous task, with Schopis revealing his past failures in missions when some of his men were killed. Smith and Strunk soon returned with a rabbit which they all had for dinner than night.
Hatchet - Wikimedia
Josef’s Arm is Amputated
Josef’s condition had continued to worsen, to the point where they decided that his gangrenous arm would have to be amputated. This episode was one of the most gruesome parts of the film. In searching for more firewood to prepare for their elementary surgery on Josef, they found additional reserves under the floor boards, including several bottles of whiskey, dried meats and biscuits. They immediately got into the whiskey, not forgetting Josef, hoping he would get so drunk he would not feel the pain of his amputation. Schopis insisted on doing the job, which was done with the sanitized axe. He was successful, and Josef was comatose for several days while he underwent a healing process.
Judy Garland - "Over the Rainbow" - Wikimedia
“Over the Rainbow” and a Deepening of Friendships
While the men continued their drinking party, the conversation returned to “Sheila” and her attraction for Smith. Smith revealed that he had impressed her by singing “Over the Rainbow” to her. The men insisted that he should repeat his performance to them, but he refused. When he went to the outhouse, though, they heard him singing, and went out to listen more closely to his serenade. It was evening, and the viewer was able to see the Aurora Borealis off in the distance. It was a beautiful sight.
In opening up to Smith, Strunk showed him his sketch book which revealed his awesome talent. Unknown to the others, he was able to capture the likenesses of all of them as they whiled away the hours in the cabin. Not to be outdone, Schopis said he would do something that would top everybody. He brought out four cigarettes which they were all able to enjoy. In a self-revelatory moment, Schopis also took Josef’s prized book autographed by Adolph Hitler and threw it in the fire.
The Ski Patrol
Not far away in a Norwegian military camp, it was learned by the authorities that a crashed plane had been found. The ski patrol was sent out to look for the plane. Because the weather had improved, Smith and Strunk decided to try their hand at skiing, and were seen by the ski patrol, who regarded them both as German soldiers and shot Strunk. Smith led them back to the cabin, where Josef had just awakened and was rescued along with Davenport and Schopis.
In a poignant moment in the military camp, Schopis interrupts a meeting between Davenport and the Norwegian officer in charge by returning Davenport’s cigarette lighter to him, as he had promised.
Final Credits and Musings
In the final credits, we learned that Schopis and Josep spent the rest of the war in a prison camp in Canada. Smith was killed in another plane crash. After many years, Davenport was able to contact Schopis and invited him to come to London for a visit. They met on several occasions after that until Schopis died in 2011.
The beauty of these minor incidents in the story is the gradual peeling away of hatred between enemies as they came to know each other on an intimate basis. We all find by frequent contact that our similarities are greater than our differences. We are all equal in the eyes of God. This film awakens our better instincts and subtly moves us to an acceptance of our fellowman which you might never have felt before.
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