And Then They Came Home
I know an extraordinary young man. He enlisted with the Marines and found himself in the Second Battle of Fallujah. He has made a remarkable documentary about his experiences and that of his platoon-mates, called The November War. Garrett Anderson and his co-producer Antonio de la Torre held the premiere of their movie right here in our shared hometown this weekend.
You couldn’t have kept me away from it with a crowbar.
You’ve seen war documentaries before. I’ve not seen one that focused quite so intimately on a single, awful event — twelve Marines checking a single house for enemies on the second day of what turned in to a seven-week long battle.
You’ve probably seen or read a thing or two about post-traumatic stress disorder and the combat veteran. What I hadn’t seen before is an entire platoon of Marines’ swagger eroding as the interviews progress. You can get a taste of that swagger in the preview:
But because the filmmaker was one of them, he was able to get these guys to let down their guards and really open up. My grandfather fought in the Second World War and he would never let down his fear of vulnerability enough to talk to his own grandson about the sorts of things that Anderson gets these Marines to reveal to a camera — a camera manned by one of their own.
The from-the-field digital camera footage is jarring. The combat death of one of the Marines is deeply saddening, and hugely affecting is the recounting of the Marines’ confusion and reaction to this. But more jarring is watching the interviews of the soldiers talking about returning home and thinking back on their experiences. One Marine interacts with his daughter in a way that made me weep openly with the sweetness and fragility of the moment.
It’s also a kickstarter success story — the working capital for the film came from that source.
But I also found myself intimidated. What these guys went though, it seems too big to capture in words. Several of the Marines featured in the movie were present, as was the family of the fallen soldier, as was another Marine, who now will use a wheelchair for mobility as a result of his war wounds, for whom funds were raised so that he can have a home of his own.
Challenged by something that big, what could I, a civilian, possibly have to say that was meaningful or worthwhile? Everything that came to mind seemed lame and empty.
I donated, but otherwise I was left so staggered by the exposure to the real cost paid by actual, individual people for war, that I was literally speechless and afterwards could do nothing but shake my filmmaker friend’s hand, tell him that I’m proud of him, and leave. It occurred to me afterwards that I left ambiguous that I was proud of him making the film, or proud of the military service that he had rendered. And that’s probably for the best.
Watch for this film when you get a chance. It won’t change your politics, but it will deepen and nuance your understanding of the price of war.