Documentary Review: WARTORN 1861-2010

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wartornposterAn Investigation of Post Traummatic Stress Disorder and Combat

Soldiers returning from combat experience severe depression, sleep disorders and other symptoms collectively known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Wartorn presents the history of the effects of war on combat veterans from the time of the U.S. Civil War — when doctors called it hysteria, melancholia and insanity — the to the present.

The Dire Invisible Wounds of Combat

The film defines PTSD as the invisible wounds of war, wounds that effect the psyche. Few veterans are symptom-free, and statistics show that the most extreme reaction — suicide — is on the rise among U.S. soldiers returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, there is a reluctance to acknowledge that these invisible wounds are as serious and damaging as those that can be bandaged. Wartorn raise awareness about PTSD and its toll on veterans, their family and friends, the broader circle of people around them, and society as a whole.

Heartbreaking First Person Accounts

In the film, we are brought up to speed on PTSD by being introduced to veterans who tell their stories on camera. Senior citizens who fought in World War II tell us that they’re still plagued by their war experiences, and have never been able to forget what they did and saw during the war. Speaking about their condition for the first time, they tell of the nightmares and other symptoms that they’ve suffered for all these years. We learn from soldiers who fought in Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraq, and have not been able to adjust to civilian life. There is also the moving testimony of a Civil War soldier, presented in the form of letters home that show how he went off to war as an enthusiastic patriot and, after a year, lost his sense of purpose and, after two years, could barely function. Illustrated with archival photos of the soldier and of the battle conditions he faced, these letters — and the soldiers story — are heartbreaking.

War Just Doesn’t Work

None of the soldiers who appear in the film lack fortitude. They simply cannot cope with what they’ve experienced in war. And, they tell you exactly what that is. And, their accounts are seconded by those of their immediate families, who are also deeply effected by the condition of their beloved husbands, sons, brothers and fathers.

There is expert testimony, too, from Army medical personnel, who speak about PTSD symptoms and statistics, and say they have neither a cure nor an effective palliative for the emotional collapse that brings on the various symptoms.

There is no proselytizing from filmmakers Jon Alpert and Ellen Goosenberg Kent, nor from Executive Producer James Gandolfini, nor is there any blame declared. But Wartorn, as an investigative documentary, makes it clear that war treats its heroes as victims, whether we see their wounds or not, and the underlying message, bottom line, is that war doesn’t work. Yes, war may serve to protect national interests, to promote a sense of patriotism and national identity and/or to stimulate the economy, but it also shreds the social fabric, prevents many individuals who serve from having normal, happy, constructive lives, relationships and careers.

It’s painful to watch Wartorn. The film calls for the heroic ideal of the veteran to be called up for reconsideration. Perhaps it’s easier to just celebrate veterans and thank them for their service, but this film shows that that’s really not enough.

The film premiered on HBO on November 11, 2010. It is now available on Amazon.

Film Details:

Title: Wartorn 1861-2010
Directors: Jon Alpert and Jane Goosenberg Kent
Release Date: November 11, 2010 on HBO
Running Time: 90 mins.
Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
Location: USA, Europe, Vietnam, Iraq
Language: English
Company: Attaboy Films, HBO Documentaries

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