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 documentary Thank You for Your Service by Ken J

‘Thank You for Your Service’ starts with a frantic, tear-filled 911 call reporting a suicide. It’s a gut-wrenching moment in a documentary that’s filled with them, and with scenes that make you want to scream in frustration at the bureaucracy faced by combat veterans seeking mental health services…

…uses its late scenes to explore nongovernment programs that have arisen to help veterans. Those examples are heartfelt and encouraging, and offer some hope after the devastating early sections.

Still, that hope is tempered by cruel reality. This important film ends with a silent onscreen note: ‘While you have watched this documentary, a veteran has committed suicide.’

The new film, as introduced by Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “Hall brings the war home, tracking three discharged soldiers (played with aching hurt and camaraderie by Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, and Joe Cole) who return to the Midwest and their families to find nothing the same as it was, especially themselves.”

More from Charles Bramesco, The Guardian, who offers a mixed perspective reflective of the overall ratings so far: “With a lack of detail rooting them to their cultural moment, the challenges faced by soldiers Adam, Tausolo and Will (Miles Teller, Beulah Koale and Joe Cole, respectively) 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 Scherstuhl, 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.