Trauma of War (Psychological): “American Sniper,” “Crisis Hotline”

Two current films that address the psychological trauma of war are up for major awards: Clint Eastwood‘s based-on-a-true-story feature American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyleand the 40-minute documentary Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, directed by Ellen Goosenberg Kent, which was first seen on HBO in 2013.

I. American Sniper 

Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News: “Though it never uses the term ‘PTSD,’ American Sniper, at its best, is a devastating portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder.” Vognar elaborates:

Eastwood, Hall and especially Cooper walk the line between Kyle’s valor and his torment. The movie is strongest when Kyle is home, as his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller, also strong), wonders whether the man who was her husband might re-enter the land of the living. Cooper turns Kyle’s emotional vacancy into a vivid presence. He wears it in the hollow eyes, and the clenched jaw, and the monosyllabic shutdown when anyone expresses concern.

The trailer’s below:

In a recent Psychology Today post, Dr. Jeremy Clyman asserts that Kyle’s PTSD emerges “mostly in-between his second and fourth tours.” Further explanation:

He remains adaptively sharp and competent on the battlefield but during his brief re-integrations into normal society and home life there are some telltale signs: we see him uncomfortable in his own skin, anxious about being away from the battlefield, lost in thought (awful war-related recollections) and, less frequently, sucked back into some re-experiences. He is also adamantly opposed to his wife’s efforts to discuss his experiences and, in general, seems unable to relax into his old life and affable persona. His default mode at home is irritable and guarded; he is visibly edgy when lawnmowers sound off, and inappropriately panicked when his infant cries.

A well-known irony is that in 2013 Kyle was fatally shot, allegedly by another veteran with PTSD, a man Kyle was trying to help.

II. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

“Based in Canandaigua, NY and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Veterans Crisis Line receives more than 22,000 calls each month from veterans of all conflicts who are struggling or contemplating suicide due to the psychological wounds of war and the challenges of returning to civilian life” (HBO). Other reasons vets call the hotline include PTSD, depression, and addiction, as well as other effects of the trauma of war.

The Veterans Crisis Line number is 1-800-273-8255. And yes, press 1. It’s not only for vets but also their loved ones.

This film focuses on the helpers, who “react to a variety of complex calls and handle the emotional aftermath of what can be life-and-death conversations.”

Who are the helpers? From HBO’s website: “These are superbly well-trained people, deeply compassionate and about a quarter of them are veterans themselves.”

Viewers are privy only, of course, to one-sided conversations— you hear “the responders’ compassionate reactions” to the trauma of war.

Paul Szoldra, Business Insider: “Calls can be minutes or hours and can sometimes lead to dire circumstances — with supervisors calling local police to visit veterans on the line that have guns right by their side. The responders use phrases like ‘No one can replace you,’ ‘Your children need you,’ and ‘Your family loves you’ — sometimes being the last person that a veteran may talk to before taking their own life.”

Brian LowryVariety: “…(J)ust living through a few of these exchanges illustrates the nerve-wracking, grueling nature of the work, and one can only imagine the psychic toll exacted upon those fielding these pleas for help.”

For more resources for veterans and their families, click on this link on the Veterans Crisis Line website.

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