HBO // 2010 // 68 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // May 28th, 2011
War is hell. The sole point is to kill as many of your enemies as you can until you get them to surrender or you wipe them out. We are all familiar with the costs of war on the civilians and soldiers. Do we need further proof that war is one of the most destructive concepts created by humankind?
Evidently we do, because hundreds of soldiers are dying by their own hand long after the battles are done. Wartorn shows us why and what is being done about it.
The documentary charts the history of America's handling of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. It reaches back to the American Civil War. We hear letters written by a young soldier fighting for the North. His first few letters are filled with patriotic vigor and eagerness to fight for a cause he believes in. But with each letter things turn darker and darker. The horrors of what he's seen weigh on him. After two years in battle, he is discharged and sent home. But things get worse, as he becomes increasingly paranoid and hostile. Eventually he kills himself with a rifle.
This story is repeated through the years, war after war, with slight variations. Sometimes the soldier is able to come to grips with the issues plaguing him. Other times, he harms someone else or himself, and ends up locked away in a mental institution or jail. The documentary slides from the past into our current wars, with soldiers who are fighting PTSD now. To hear them tell their stories, some accompanied with footage and photos from their tours of duty, is deeply disturbing.
The stress of living a life in constant high alert combined the the rigorous training needed to turn a civilian into a soldier creates a mental landscape that some people just can't cope with. Coming back home becomes a nightmare, as their soldier sense can not be turned off. Many of these people end up going back for another tour, because in combat they are normal and functional. At home, they are dangerous and depressed.
The historical perspective is equally uncomfortable because we see how badly America has dealt with this issue. The article written by the man who survived World War I was tragic in the extreme. His experience in combat, brief as it was, destroyed his ability to handle ordinary life at home. He charts his descent in plain words, trying to describe the feelings and the concept so alien to people at that time. Eventually he was able to work his way to a level of acceptance, but was never free from the anxiety and fear that constantly assailed him.
The documentary also presents the military's view of PTSD and what they are doing to understand and cope with it. One general interviewed says that it's difficult to get senior members of the military to understand that PTSD is like a bleeding wound. It must be treated when its first detected. A soldier who is affected is just as injured as if he or she was shot. It just makes sense to set up a system to deal with it in the combat zones, as well as offering help once the soldiers return home.
This documentary is presented using archival photos and film, readings of letters, and interviews with vets, military personnel and families. These interviews really get to the heart of the matter. Hearing these men and women attempt to put into words the affects of PTSD on their minds, and on their family and friends, is tough stuff. Executive producer James Gandolfini shows up asking some of the questions, but never takes the spotlight. It's a little odd, but probably allowed the documentary crew access to areas they might not have had.
If I have any complaints it's that the format gets a bit manipulative at times. The slow montage of dead bodies and soldiers in obvious anguish as the meaningful score plays was too much. I was more touched by the vets telling their stories then the over-theatrical stylings that popped up now and again.
HBO pictures provides Wartorn with a good release. The images were clear and the sound was balanced well. The extra was a post screening panel at the Pentagon. The focus was more on what can be done for soldiers with PTSD and how the military was putting some of the ideas mentioned in documentary into practice. It runs about thirty minutes and is well worth viewing after the documentary.
One of the highest compliments I can pay a documentary is that it made me think and talk about the subject after it was done. My wife and I did just that for a couple of hours after viewing it. This isn't the most uplifting of topics, but in many ways Wartorn does show that America is finally moving in a positive direction to help its soldiers deal with a very real and very dangerous issue.
Not Guilty in the least.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 68 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Posttraumatic stress disorder