no man’s land
1. Land under dispute by two opposing parties, especially the field of battle between the lines of two opposing entrenched armies.
2. An area of uncertainty or ambiguity.
3. An unclaimed or unowned piece of land.
I’ve been reading lately a book entitled Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays by writer Eula Biss. A modern collection (published 2009), this woman’s pieces have something of the flavor of a memoir, ripe with insight with Biss’s unique observations about her life and family as well as the world at large. I remember reading Phyllis Theroux (California and Other States of Grace) and Annie Dillard, and Ms. Biss has much of the same qualities of these two other writers.
What has stirred me recently is this term “no man’s land.” While reading this essay collection, I actually didn’t give the phrase much thought until now in the past week I’ve unexpectedly watched two films where “no man’s land” was discussed and actually represented. Not knowing much about World War I, the “Great War” as it was for a time described, it turns out that “no man’s land” was part of the vernacular of the battlefield where this war was fought.
In the 2012 film “War Horse” it was in “no man’s land” that one of the more dramatic scenes occurs. It is there where Joey, the smart, staunch and persevering horse brought into battle by both the British and the Germans during World War I, ends up entangled in barbed wire. As two soldiers, enemies in arms, work together to free the horse they meet together in “No Man’s Land” to do so. This stretch of desolate land between the two opposing trenches now becomes the neutral place where some good can occur on behalf of another living creature.
The French film “A Very Long Engagement” (2004) tells the story of a young French woman whose fiancé is drafted into the Great War (World War I). A lame woman of great fortitude, she and her fiancé grew up together and when he fails to return home after the war ends in 1918, she persists in the belief that he is still alive. What she learns is that her fiancé and four other men, condemned to death by their own French army for shooting themselves either on purpose or accidently, were thrust out of their trench to fend for themselves in “No Man’s Land.” As unshielded moving targets, the film slowly unravels how these five men coped with their exile in “No Man’s Land” and how long each of them survived. In this film much attention is given to “No Man’s Land” as it is serves as the backdrop for these five men living or dying.