Film / The War

The War is a 1994 drama directed by Jon Avnet and starring Elijah Wood and Kevin Costner, about a young boy who grows up dealing with issues of racism and war in a poor part of rural Mississippi in The '70s.

Stu Simmons (Wood) and his sister Lidia have a small group of friends that includes two black girls, Elvadine and Amber. There is a rival gang of all white kids all having the last name of Lipnicki. They frequently have fights that are similar to gang wars except that they're still too young for real weapons.

They start school and their teacher is a very racist white woman whose first action is to make all the black children sit in the back. She then assigns everyone to write an essay on "Why the world is a bowl full of cherries".

Meanwhile, Stu's dad comes home from a mental hospital after suffering shell shock in Vietnam. He struggles with PTSD and there are a number of people who hate him for having been in the war or are prejudiced against him for having a mental illness.

Elvadine finally gets fed up with the racist teacher and instead of turning in an essay, she tells the teacher exactly what for in an amazing speech for such a young girl. The teacher is silenced and intimidated but not for long. The girl is expelled.

Then after Stu's father dies in a mining accident, Stu and his friends have had enough and they get into the fight to end all fights with the Lipnicki's. But while they are fighting, the youngest one climbs a water tower, falls in and nearly drowns. All the kids pull together to save the youngest and the fight is ended.

Not to be confused with Ken Burns' 2007 documentary miniseries about World War II.

[The War] contains examples of:

  • Catch Phrase: Miss Strapford's "a bowl full of cherries".
  • Condescending Compassion: The teacher thinks that life is "a bowl full of cherries" when the black kids are segregated from the whites.
  • Deep South
  • Gang Bangers: The're too young to be a true gang but the kids are on the threshold where they will become gangs if something doesn't change.
  • Home Base: The two gangs fight over a treehouse that each side wants as a base. In the end, both sides abandon the treehouse when they make peace with each other.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Stu's father, Stephen.