The story of two men, one married, the other the lover of the other's wife, who meet in the trenches of the First World War, and how their tale becomes a microcosm for the horrors of war.
After serving in the trenches of World War I, Jean Diaz recoils with such horror that he renounces love and personal pleasure to immerse himself in scientific research, seeking a machine to prevent war. He thinks he has succeeded, but the government subverts his discovery, and Europe slides with seeming inevitability toward World War II. In desperation, Diaz summons the ghosts of the war dead from the graves and fields of France to give silent, accusing protest.
J'accuse is an 'essay-istic' documentary in which Greenaway's fierce criticism of today's visual illiteracy is argued by means of a forensic search of Rembrandt's Nightwatch. Greenaway explains the background, the context, the conspiracy, the murder and the motives of all its 34 painted characters who have conspired to kill for their combined self-advantage. Greenaway leads us through Rembrandt's paintings into 17th century Amsterdam. He paints a world that is democratic in principle, but is almost entirely ruled by twelve families. The notion exists of these regents as charitable and compassionate beings. However, reality was different.