Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Netflix This: Hell and Back Again

     It's unbelievably easy to forget that men and women of every nationality, color and sexual orientation are coming home from war--even to this day--with deep metaphorical scars that harm the emotional thought process of the brain or real scars that dig deep into flesh, muscle and bone. Luckily, for people sitting in the comfort of their own home who want to know what exactly is happening with the wars or returning soldiers, for every few hundred brave troops there is a brave journalist or filmmaker capturing the humor, patriotism and atrocity that transpires in any war. Just take a look at Dexter Filkins' incredible nonfiction book, The Forever War, or watch some of the wonderful and inspiring (and sometimes sickening) documentaries that have graced our television and theater screens in the past few years: namely No End in Sight and the outstanding Restrepo. Add Hell and Back Again to the list.
     Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris is nearing the end of a 6-month tour in Afghanistan. He's in the way of a sniper bullet that gets fired by the enemy, and it shoots him on the side of his ass. He eloquently states that the bullet blew "half his ass off." Hell and Back Again is one of those documentaries that focuses more on the aftermath of getting brutally wounded in war than the war itself. This isn't a film about a group of hunkered down soldiers trying to survive in a trench in a mountain range in Afghanistan; it's about one man trying to survive physical therapy and a trip to Wal-Mart after leaving the only career that he's ever been good at. The career of killing people.
      To be nice, any chance Nathan gets he shows off his scar to the concerned folk around his neighborhood. The bullet, as one can imagine, had no trouble searing through Nathan's skin, fat, muscle and the bone of his hip socket. From there, it bounced around a little bit, fragmenting a portion of his leg in the process. He spends a lot of time in a motorized wheelchair or on the couch, trying to stretch his injury through therapy until tears slowly fall down his cheeks. Other time is spent with film that was shot during Nathan's deployment. You can tell that Nathan believes in the United States' mission, whether he's crawling across a dangerous field, trying to spot rogue Taliban fighters, or speaking with Afghan elders through a translator.
     The mission, while deployed, is clear. The mission, when he's wounded and at home, is much harder to decipher. His wife Ashley is the type of woman who every soldier hopes to have his corner, a girl who would lovingly fill your pain medication subscriptions and change your diaper at the same time with no fear in her face and only love in her heart. Addiction to painkillers always looms in the viewers mind: how can someone sustain an injury like this and not be reliant on drugs (especially drugs that cause euphoria in high doses). Nathan has to fight much different battles than when he was deployed. He just wants to go back and fight.
     As Hell and Back Again continues, Nathan's situation becomes clearer. He always seemingly has an obsession with guns--cleaning them, loading them, pointing them at things. He always seems ready to aim and take another shot, whether it's towards a burglar in the night or a Taliban fighter in his dreams. Unfortunately, in his new life, there is nobody to shoot dead. There is only his wife, left to deal with his broken state, waiting for the day in which Nathan will overcome his lost love: war.

(Available on Netflix Instant Watch)

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