War Horse: Movie Review/Thoughts on Big and Small Days

By Stacey Tuttle

I really thought when I left War Horse that I would write about that great, beautiful moment in the movie when, in the middle of World War II, Joey (the horse) is rescued from his barbed wire entanglement in “no man’s land”[1].  It’s fantastic! (The scene of his rescue, not the barbed wire horror)  The soldiers notice something impossibly alive in the buffer zone between the two warring armies.  One brave soldier risks his life (waving a peace flag) to go out and try to free the beast, but he forgot to bring any wire cutters.

Along comes a soldier from the German side offering to help (and he had access to wire cutters).  It was like an oasis, this one brief moment of peace and cooperation in the midst of a brutal war.  Two men who were trying to kill each other minutes before, and frankly, minutes after, for a moment came together to help another living thing.  They talked about the rats in their bunkers and about girls—safe areas of common ground, areas they could laugh about together.  For all their differing ideologies and leaders, they were two very similar men.  If you’ve seen the movie, no doubt that scene made a significant impression on you.

I was so sure I would write something about that scene, but now as I sit down to write, I can’t get past Ted’s statement.  It seemed to sort of shape the way he looked at things and the decisions he made.“There are big days and there are small days – which will it be?” he would ask.

This question was the catalyst for the entire plot line, actually.  Ted went into town on just another normal day to buy a plow horse.  The thing is, he didn’t buy a plow horse.  Ted saw Joey, the War Horse.  He wasn’t a war horse yet, of course.  He was a young, unbroken high spirited thoroughbred—the kind people used for jumping and racing, not for plowing.  The safe thing to do would have been to buy the horse his family needed to plow the land, but Ted saw this as a moment for something great to happen.

He saw greatness and potential in that horse, even though the horse wasn’t suited to his immediate needs, so he bid on the horse.  Not only did he bid, but he bid against his rather mean spirited landlord. I guess it’s possible that the opportunity to challenge someone who saw himself as Ted’s better was part of his motivation as well.  In either case, Ted saw it as a momentous occasion that he needed to take advantage of.  He said, “Most days are small days…this,
this is a big one.” That being said, he risked all—his family, his livelihood, his farm, everything— to buy that horse.

In the end, his investment in that horse paid off.  He was right to see something special in Joey, and to recognize when an opportunity for greatness had presented itself.  He was right to bet the farm, literally.  His ability to distinguish  between small days and a great one when it came along gave him courage to act.  (For more on courage, read the We Bought a Zoo movie review!)

I think there are times when we know, yes, this is a BIG moment.  We sometimes realize that something BIG has happened, or could happen if we acted on it.  Sometimes the weightiness of an opportunity or an event makes itself fully apparent to us, like when you have your first child (or any child), or you get married, or graduate from school…any of life’s major milestones have that BIG feel to them.  Maybe it’s some opportunity that you weren’t even looking for
necessarily, which drops in your lap and you somehow just know that this is a game changer, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime—it’s a BIG day.

The reason this phrase caught my attention so much though was because of something my Bible teacher taught me in high school from the book of Ruth. Ruth was widowed and chose to go with Naomi, her mother in law (also
widowed), back to Naomi’s homeland.  In that time, widows didn’t have a lot of career opportunities, especially if you
were a foreigner.  Ruth was both.

The two women needed food, so Ruth set out to pick up scraps of grain that the harvesters left behind in the fields.  (This was a common practice, and probably one of the only means of provision available to her and Naomi.)So, Ruth set out on what felt like a small day, on a very small, but important task of meeting their most basic need for food.

I should back up and explain a little of the back story.  There were prophecies that the Messiah would come from the line of David.  Ruth’s husband was in the line of David—but he was dead, of course.  Another thing you should understand is that the Jewish people had a way of caring for widows.  If a woman was widowed, she would marry the next son in line, or if that wasn’t possible, she would marry the next of kin.  Some man in the family would take her into his household in order to continue the family name of the dead relative.  Naomi’s sons were all dead.  There
didn’t appear to be any kinsmen redeemer available (note also, they had until this time been living in a foreign land—so there weren’t really any Jews around, much less Jews in the family).

As I mentioned, Ruth set out on what felt like a small task, on what, I’m sure, felt like a small day.  The Bible even indicates the very ordinariness of it all. It says, “She happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz”[2]
(emphasis added).  It doesn’t say the stars aligned, or God directed her steps (which, of course I believe he did),
or fate took her there…anything that might indicate that she felt some sense of the bigness of her being in that field at that time.  It indicates chance and casualness, happenstance, if you will, not because it was an act of chance, but because to her, its’ significance was unknown.  In Ruth’s eyes, she just happened upon that particular field.

Boaz noticed her right away.  I suspect that for him, he was feeling a little more like Ted Narracott, recognizing that there are small days and there are big days…and this was a big day.  He immediately inquired about her.  He then set about providing for her both in terms of food and protection.  He married her—he was a “kinsman redeemer” (i.e. in the bloodline of her husband and expected to redeem her dead husband’s bloodline), but I suspect he had more motivation than that behind his desire to marry her.  In fact, I know he did because he wasn’t the official next of kin so the responsibility didn’t fall to him.

Happening on that field was a big day for Ruth, because she met her future husband that day.  It was an even bigger day than that though.  Jesus himself was one of her descendants.  She is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus!  Ruth never even knew just how monumental of a day that was.

The thing is, it probably wouldn’t have changed anything if Ruth had known the significance of that day.   Maybe she would have worried more about making the right decision.  Surely that’s how I would feel if I knew that a trip to the grocery store would be where I would meet Mr. Right.  During every trip to the grocery store I would wonder, did I visit the right one?  Should I have said hello to that guy, or did I appear too eager when I said hello to that guy?…etc., etc., etc.  Oh, ignorance is bliss!

I said it wouldn’t make much difference to Ruth though, because Ruth was faithful.  Ruth was doing what she was supposed to be doing.  It’s not like she didn’t want to go glean in the fields, so Naomi told her that if she went, she might meet someone.  How many of us though, only work hard or do what we are supposed to do in the way we are supposed to do it when we feel that sense that this is a big day?  The boss is coming into the office, so suddenly everyone is there on time and out of the coffee room, sitting at their desks diligently working away…in a clean office, where it appears work is always done right, even when no one is looking.  How many times do we only “show up” for the big days, chalking up all the rest of the days as small and therefore insignificant and unimportant?

My friend Dan Hettinger[3] is writing a book called Welcome to the Big Leagues: Every man’s journey to significance, and in it he tells a story about Darrel Chaney, a baseball utility player (in other words, he was the all-around substitute).  In a nutshell, Chaney was playing for the Cincinnati Red’s (Big Red Machine era—1974) and wanted more playing time, but was playing behind a lineup of all-stars and hall-of-famers.  He was talking to the coach, Sparky Anderson, about it and the coach encouraged him, saying that he needed this guy to be the best he could be in EVERY position, so that when he was needed, he would be ready and he would be great.  He challenged him not to worry so much about playing time, but to “be ready when the game comes to you.”

I love this story because it brings the idea of big days and small days together.  Most days are small days, but even the small days are important.  The small days are training and preparation.  The small days position you (If you allow them and are faithful) to be ready for the big days.  You never know when a big day is going to happen.  I mean, you may be aware when someone is suddenly giving you an opportunity to bat, but you rarely, if ever, know when that day is going to come.  Small days are training for the big days, but they also are sometimes (like in the case of Ruth) simply big days in disguise.

I think for some of us, (not me), discipline and faithfulness come more naturally.  There are some people in the world who will be faithful to go about their daily lives in a way that honors the Lord, in such a way that nothing changes if the boss should decide to show up that day.  I think there are others of us (admittedly, this is me) for whom that sense of,
“this is a big day” (or “the big day is coming”) is really helpful to get us motivated and make the small days productive (as in the case of the utility player).

Ultimately, it’s up to the Lord whether our days are big or small.  He is the coach.  He can call us up to bat whenever he
chooses.  That may be a lot, or it may only be in a pinch.  Are you content to be at his disposal?  Are you prepared
when he calls?

Questions for Discussion

  • How are you doing with the big and small days?
  • Do you need the awareness of something big to motivate you to greatness?
  • Are you faithful in the small days to prepare for life’s big moments?
  • Do you get frustrated when it seems all you get are the small days?
  • How many times have you “happened upon a field” in your life, only to discover later how monumental that happening was?
  • When you know the big day is upon you, do you get inspired or overwhelmed?
  • Do you chafe at the Coach (i.e. God) if he doesn’t, to your way of thinking, give you enough playing time?

“Sow your seed in the morning and at evening, let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”  Ecclesiastes 11:6


Click here for War Horse movie quotes!

[1] If any horse people are out there, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that that scene was horrific—the scene where he
gets tangled that is.  Telling myself it was Hollywood couldn’t stop my body from recoiling in sheer terror.  But come on!!!   If you’re going to have a horse get that wrapped up in barbed wire, you have to give him some real injuries!  Ugh – don’t get me started!  I’ve seen what a little barbed wire can do to a horse….that much barbed wire would have filleted that horse wide open…all over.  I mean, it makes sense that would irk me when everything else in the movie was so realistic, right?!

[2] Ruth 2:3

[3] He will tell this story in much better detail in his upcoming book…don’t miss it – it’s due out the beginning of baseball season 2012!  Also, check out his book Everyday Courage.