The Fallen of World War II is an interactive, data-driven documentary about the casualties of WWII. The documentary’s punchline, however, is that despite contemporary sentiments and contrary to what the media may make us feel, we are in fact living in a period of ‘long peace’. What this means is that we are now less likely than ever before in the recorded history of mankind (!) to die in battle.
The documentary’s central data visualization tool – the bar chart – is simple and accessible. The beauty of this piece is that it uses the easily legible bar chart in exciting new ways that really drive home some of the most insightful points that the documentary makes. For example, in order to highlight the extent of military casualties of the Soviet Union, the video slowly follows a new bar that rises up for almost a whole minute, eventually towering above the equivalent bars that detail German and French military casualties. This toggling between micro and macro views of the data on offer helps the viewer realize both the overall human life cost of WWII but also how each country fared comparatively to one another. What’s more, the sound effect used when each bar is presented – which alludes to casino chips falling – highlights the way civilians and soldiers alike were often used as pawns by their respective governments.
Besides the inventive use of the bar chart, the documentary is effective for many reasons. Together with a cross-country comparison, the documentary offers the number of casualties from each country involved in the conflict across time. The interactive bar chart (seen in the image below) allows for multiple variables to be taken in at once: month and year, nationality and even specific battles/events are available for the user to browse through.
Another effective technique in this documentary is the presentation of the same data in different ways. For example, when talking about the number of Jews killed during WWII, the documentary first arranges that data per country, and then arranges it again by cause of death (gas chambers; mobile killing squads etc).
Beyond data visualization tools, the documentary uses narration and still photography in a way that (1) ensures the audience understands the data presented and (2) adds a ‘human’ and historic element to the story.