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Regeneration

By Ray Pride

AUGUST 24, 1998:  "Regeneration" is a world inside another world: a view of the mass carnage of the century's first global conflict, seen from inside a Scottish mental hospital in 1917. There, the trauma of several officers is recalled in mortifying repose, far from the front lines where good men fight the good fight. As directed by Gillies MacKinnon ("Small Faces") from Pat Barker's novel, war is seen as a series of aftereffects and lingering sorrow, not as momentary explosions and special effects gush. The fighting fields of France, described by patients of a pioneering psychoanalyst named Dr. William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce, riveting), are acres of blue and black mud, streaked with mud-covered faces and mud-soaked corpses. The horror begins in trying to make sense of it all. Poet Siegfried Sassoon (James Wilby), remembered largely for his war poetry, has declared his opposition to the course of the hostilities, and has been remanded to "the bin" to be talked out of his disloyalty. There he meets poet Wilfred Owen (Stuart Bunce), whom he convinces to write about the war, which will eventually kill Owen. That is Dr. Rivers' nightmare as well, in a time when it is believed that the upper crust are better men and better soldiers: "Officers even have more elaborate dreams than their troops," he says that his studies show. Rivers, rife with his own doubts, slowly yet surely realizes the futility of his task of "regeneration," of making men whole again in order that they may return to the front lines until the war is won or until they die. The notion that memories, that poetry, are things that matter more than battles and the mere facts of warfare, seems somehow antiquated, yet in MacKinnon's steely, heartfelt grasp, becomes a haunting and elevated truth, an articulate cry of compassion.


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