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Nightmares Await After Returning from War

By Staff | Apr 23, 2008

Incriminating military procedure, policy and training, “Stop Loss” stridently forces viewers to contend with shrouded realities of the Iraq War.

First, it demonstrates what happens to some troops when they return home and scuffles with the legality of enlisting unwilling soldiers for a third or fourth tour of duty in the Middle Eastern country. Each issue shovels circumstances multiplied by thousands with which those both at home and in the military must face.

Structured with an opening brutal anguish of urban warfare in the alleys and streets of the oil rich country, the film segues seamlessly to an infantry marching home parade and the preparation of the men resuming civilian lives. But, more and more loved ones ask, “What happened to him?” as the new veterans attempt to cover the emotive short circuits of themselves and their buddies.

Figuratively, they actually cannot go “home” again, as the mentally blocked images from Iraq store in a black box somewhere in their heads often burst into inopportune conduct. Whether due to the urban guerrilla nature of their fighting or other stressors, the ranch, Main Street, church, hospital, or bedroom can unobtrusively trigger interactive flashbacks to the desert.

Ironically, an article published this week in the New York Times squarely indicts the multiple tours of duty policy as increasing the risk and severity of post traumatic stress disorder.

Directed and co-written by Kimberly (“Boys Don’t Cry”) Perice, “Stop Loss” simultaneously, yet more intimately, choreographs on the plight of squad leader Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe). Having lost three men in an ambush just days before coming home, he’s determined not to return to the hell that is Iraq. Confronted with third tour of duty orders, Brandon hits the A.W.O.L. road with his buddy’s ex-fiance. The road trip allows the soldier to confront choices between returning and becoming a man without a country.

Instead of rallying for or against a specific battlefield, “Stop Loss” amplifies future ramifications of current choices. Although not intentionally symbolic or allegorical, the intensity of the production exemplies the hazardous degrees of extreme individuality upon relationships — friends, family, working, romantic — where communication lines are clogged with ineffectiveness. Each of the returnees share varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.), some expressed in more bizarre ways than others. Their very job title of “soldier” separates them from those selling cars, attending universities, or writing a book.

You will be troubled by scenes of a soldier digging up the front yard in the middle of the night, staging a hood execution, and absorbing the responsibilities of quick decisions (at home or on the battlefield) that you fantasize for an opportunity to have chosen a different option.

Stoically acted, Ms. Perice has jokers up her sleeves, which may temporarily baffle. You care about these troops; you sympathize with their family and friends. But, the foundation of “Stop Loss” exceeds the tiny Texas town and the members of one infantry unit. When hostilities cease and more soldiers return home, an epidemic of P.T.S.D. likely will ensure far beyond the hidden illnesses of battlefield jitters or the cloaked vision of Vietnam’s survivors suffering amongst amonst past ghosts.

Tragedies in the homeland, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech, a particularly violent accident, or the collapsing WTC towers have opened the minds of many people to survivor baggage. These retired soldiers, including those held together by numerous metal prostetics and those seemingly untouched by scrapnel, will forever carry the violent horrors their eyes have seen. An epidemic of overloaded baggage accompanies each vetern. Will homeland facilities be readily available to admirably and without shame work to stabilize men and women who go from lawless anarchy to civilized communities?

Consider at least one presidential candidate (based on her daughter’s answers) anticipates the needs of the mental health of returning heroes who war demons trigger not simply from gunfire or night terrors, but a DUI checkpoint, youth gangs mischief, or the phantom sniper on the roof above Main Street.


Contact Tony at trutherford @graffitiwv.com