Set against the backdrop of Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia, King Vidor's adaptation of the Tolstoy sprawling classic stars Henry Fonda as Pierre Bezhukov. Despite the vast scope of the author's detailed portrait of the classes, regions, and characters of Russian society, he was able to draw on his own experience as a soldier in this campaign, capturing the chaos and confusion of battle in its terrible immediacy.
Both the immensely wealthy Pierre and his friend Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, members of an aristocracy of warriors, become disenchanted with the unheroic truth of war. As he says, "The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and darkness."
The reflective, unhappily married Pierre is a seeker after truth, wracked with doubt about himself, about the purpose of the war, and about the destiny of the human race. It is only in his love for the enchanting Natasha that the ruminative protagaonist can find the meaning that he sought for so long.