Thursday, April 03, 2008

War, Loss and Sacrifice Hollywood Style

After rereading yesterday's post, I got a bit concerned that my disdain for the film Stop-Loss could potentially be interpreted as a lack of empathy or concern for anyone associated with our involvement with Iraq or Afghanistan. I'm not going to dissemble - I absolutely opposed our preemptive strike from the beginning. Regardless of my feelings about the war and occupation, I do care about the human toll. Deeply.

I've seen two films lately on veterans and the impact combat can have on them. Both of them, In the Valley of Elah and the aforementioned Stop-Loss, left me cold. Elah was written and directed by Paul Haggis of Crash fame, another film that I really disliked. I don't appreciate as a rule having a "good message" slam down on my head with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. Crash could have been a much better film, and forced more of us to truly examine ourselves, if it had shown more clearly the subtle forms of racism that exist in our world. As it was, it gave people a free pass simply because the examples of racism were so hamfisted that most people could breathe a sigh of relief and say "Well, of course I would never do that." It let us off the hook.

I see echoes of that approach to a message in both Elah and Stop-Loss. The examples of trauma experienced after combat are so extreme that they cause us to perhaps question whether someone who isn't digging a fox hole in the front yard, committing suicide, murdering fellow soldiers, or beating the woman in their life truly suffers any ill effect from their experiences in a combat zone. They allow us to avert our gaze from the returning soldier who shows more subtly in his or her reaction to the incredible stress, strain, terror or even extreme boredom they've experienced for 12 to 15 months at a time for sometimes 2 or 3 tours of duty. These films give us another free pass. Ostensibly they show us what the occupation is doing to our soldiers, but in reality they perhaps allow us to miss the true toll that the war demands from its participants. If we don't see the reality of that cost, then we don't have to examine whether or not the occupation is worth it. And, if it is, whether or not we're willing to make an equal sacrifice.

Then again, maybe there remains some merit to Stop-Loss. Apparently, according to a review by Entertainment Weekly, the film is an MTV Films production marketed primarily at teenage girls. I definitely see that. The stars of the film are gorgeous and, even at their worst, still sympathetic. The film infuses the issue with just enough of a romantic sensibility to appeal to girls swooning for a noble, tortured poet hero. All of that said, and all of that noted for its manipulative qualities, it did one thing for this decidedly not teen aged person. It made me truly stop for a second and really think about what is happening to the soldiers over there. What they bring back with them. What their families struggle to work through.

I've been so opposed to this war and occupation, so distressed with the whole "we'll kick your ass 'cause we're cowboys and the rules don't apply to us" mentality that I don't think that I've given enough thought to our soldiers. It's easy these days in America if you're not fighting over in Iraq or Afghanistan, or have someone you love over there, to simply not think too much about it. I can argue a lot about the philosophical and moral issues of preemptive strikes. I can talk knowledgeably about the amount of funding this occupation has cost. I can cite how each of my legislators voted on issues surrounding the terrorist attacks and subsequent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. As I stated above, I've cared deeply about the human toll of the conflict but if I'm truly honest, it's been more in the abstract. Worse, at times it's been tempered by a frustration with our country and its armed forces fueled by Abu Ghraib, rendition and other allegations of torture. The scenes at the beginning of the film, even given the preponderance of an attitude expressed about Iraq that distresses me, did make me see soldiers a bit differently. Something Elah, a far better acted and shot film, didn't do.

So, I guess even with the hackneyed plot lines, the stereotypes, and the ridiculous acting, the film attempts to force Americans to do something that most Americans resist. It works hard to make us come out of our comfortable, affluent existence and realize that, despite the fact that we make no sacrifices over here in the name of a war, those who are over there certainly do.


countrymouse said...

This is it. This post is the reason we've all been begging you for months to keep writing. For me personally, it's because you always see things with a slightly different angle (or, like 17 different angles) than I see them with and it stretches me.

So eloquent. Well said : )

countrymouse said...

And now, on a less serious note (and here I am intoning my best Valley Girl) Like, omigosh! You have like the *cutest* new layout!

Sachi said...

Well written article.