His Mom Is So Swell!
It must be hard to have a parent who is well known for being seriously into a cause, whatever that cause may be. Especially if there's some reason you can't be part of it whether you want to or not. I mean, it's not even relevant to the story if the boy wants to do what his father wants him to do. The issue is that, for very good reasons, he can't. This means, all other issues aside, that he is Disappointing His Father, and that can get into all sorts of complicated issues. At least if you disagree with said parent, you can make a stand. You can use it as a way to become your own person, even, if you have the stomach for it. Not all children do, and that gets into its own horrible problems. However, some people never have a choice. That must be . . . not completely painful, exactly, but deeply frustrating. To have the whole thing taken out of your hands? That must be agonizing.
The boy is Jack Kipling (Daniel Radcliffe). His father, of course, is Rudyard (David Haig). Even before World War I began, Rudyard Kipling was going around, lecturing about the evils of the Hun and how they were poised to roll over the opposition and eventually take over England. Jack knows that the best thing he can do for his father's career is to join the military. Unfortunately, Jack has incredibly bad eyesight, so bad that it's probably only just barely correctable. In order to get into the military, you do pretty much have to be able to see. Jack can't, and as he is trying, Germany and England go to war. He is rejected by the Navy. He is rejected by the Army, despite the fact that his father is right there, lending his support. His father, who is also friends with King George V (Julian Wadham), finally manages to get him into the Irish Guards. His American mother, Caroline (Kim Catrall), and his sister, Elsie (Carey Mulligan), are less approving, especially since they know the death rate among young officers.
I haven't Kippled very much. I read [i]The Just-So Stories[/i] when I was a child, but other than that and a few of the poems, I haven't really read any. His belief that there could still be glory in war, even after his own son's futile death, is part of it. I don't think he was a bad person, but I think we had some fundamental personality differences in how we see the world. I think the Indian people would in many ways have done much better if the English had just left them alone, for example. I like to believe that war could still have been avoided, even after the unfortunate death of that poor archduke and his wife. (Especially since they weren't even in line for the throne, given she was a commoner!) I think the more likely reaction to the news that thousands of my countrymen were slaughtered would be to think I was well out of whatever started it, not that I, too, must join them in their cause. And I wouldn't have been able to write the propaganda he did during the war.
As to poor Jack Kipling, Daniel Radcliffe version or otherwise, all I was left with was a sense of futility. I mean, that's how I feel no matter what, when I think about World War I, but for once, the military was trying to save a young man from being slaughtered. One of the things I liked best about the movie was that, when Jack removed his glasses, the picture went as blurry as his vision must have been at the corresponding times. I mean, he was myopic enough (at least for the purposes of drama) that he couldn't even read the top letter of the eye chart, and you've got to be pretty blind for that. They're right; if you're that blind, and you lose your glasses, you're no good to anyone. He would have been considerably better off had his father just been willing to find him a job somewhere at HQ. Even a clerical job would be more useful, and all you'd have to worry about would be people pointing out the irony of Rudyard Kipling's son's not being in the trenches.
If I were Carrie or Elsie, I would have an extremely hard time forgiving Rudyard for Jack's death. Jack died because Rudyard pulled the strings that got him to the front. He died for his father's principles, not even his own. I don't think we can ever know what Jack Kipling felt about the war, the military, his country. I don't know how much, if any, writing he left, but I suspect most of it was letters home. How much can you trust those? He knew his father was going to see them, and he knew that, if he survived the war, he would be coming home to his family. Even after surviving World War I, I can't imagine that he'd want to argue with his father on subjects like honour, glory, duty, and patriotism. Sometimes, it's easier to just keep your mouth shut. However, after Jack's experiences, I imagine it would have been hard for him. Then again, the average lifespan in the trenches of someone in his rank was six weeks, so how likely was it to come up?