Oct 27

“Thank You for Your Service”: After-War PTSD

True and trite in equal measure, this film understands that war is fought by an army, but the after-war is every man for himself. David Ehrlich, IndieWire, regarding new film Thank You for Your Service

In a matter of several years David Finkel‘s bestselling 2013 nonfiction book Thank You for Your Service has been adapted into a 2015 documentary and now a feature film written and directed by Jason Hall.

Chris Schluep, Amazon critic, described the distinction of Finkel’s book about the Iraq War: “…(T)here are great truths inside, none more powerful than when Finkel writes: ‘while the truth of war is that it’s always about loving the guy next to you, the truth of the after-war is that you’re on your own.”

From the review of Thank You for Your Service by Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com:

The main story concerns a group of combat veterans and their partners, all of whom are connected to agonizing battlefield events that will be detailed in due course. There’s Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), a rock of decency whose willingness to shoulder other peoples’ burdens ultimately starts to feel like a form of emotional retreat. There’s Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale), an American Samoan who credits the military with saving his life, and Will Waller (Joe Cole), who returns home to find that his fiancee has left him and taken their daughter with her, and James Doster (Brad Beyer), who died in Iraq and is portrayed in flashbacks and through other people’s anecdotes. As in ‘The Best Years of Our Lives,’ the lives of the soldiers’ mates are central to the story: Saskia Schumann (Hayley Bennett) is as loyal to her husband as he is to his former platoon-mates, while the late James Doster’s wife Amanda (Amy Schumer, in a rare and effective dramatic turn), stays connected to her friends while struggling to find out exactly what happened to her husband

More from Charles Bramesco, The Guardian: “With a lack of detail rooting them to their cultural moment, the challenges faced by soldiers Adam, Tausolo and Will…end up as interchangeable and disposable as the army considers the men themselves to be. The trio of field brothers get sent back to the States following a bloody shootout with unseen insurgent forces, toting with them souvenirs of PTSD, survivor’s guilt and general mental infirmity.”

More specifically: “Fate deals them individual turbulences upon what they had assumed would be a triumphant return: Adam’s unprepared for the demands of fatherhood, Solo is so hard up for money that he falls in with a local gang (the least-believably-written bit in a film riddled with vague approximations of real life) and Will’s greeted by an empty home and a traitorous fiancee. The men all face their tribulations the same way, just as countless have before them – with silence and repression.”

The trailer:

Main themes, per Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice, include the prevalence of suicides, inadequacies of the VA system, and ineffective mental health care.

Hall sugars up all this hard truth with climactic scenes of forgiveness and self-sacrifice, emotional breakthroughs and sudden new beginnings, but he eschews empty promises about life ever being easy for these soldiers. Instead, his film argues that heroism at home starts with opening up and seeking help. In that, his imperfect film is a public service worth being thankful for itself. It’s not always effective drama, but as an example for thousands of struggling American families, it’s a serious breakthrough.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety, addresses the PTSD: “The most powerful aspect of the movie is that, in its plainspoken and affecting way, it demystifies the agonies of post-traumatic stress disorder. It understands PTSD not as some sort of blankly ravaged emotional shutdown but as the most healthy response possible to the violence that war commits.” Furthermore, feeling one hasn’t done enough while serving in the war is shown to be common to these surviving soldiers.