|Grief-stricken soldiers during the Korean War: courtesy of HBO|
Part of the mission of “Wartorn: 1861-2010,” an HBO documentary about post-traumatic stress disorder, is to see that its subject is taken seriously. That kind of special pleading, however necessary, can have a dulling effect on a film, and “Wartorn” sometimes starts to feel prim and preachy. But it also has its share of quietly devastating, haunting scenes, echoes of the nightmares that veterans are bringing home with them from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In one, cameras follow a soldier and his family on a shopping trip to Wal-Mart, where the crowds, noise and lights are too close a facsimile of Baghdad. Before our eyes he comes undone: his face goes rigid; he commands his daughter to stay close; he suddenly begins to stutter.
The film’s most powerful scene — for the viewer almost unbearable, for the documentary maker pure gold — is an interview with the mother of Noah Pierce, a soldier who committed suicide. Speaking in a tight monotone, she shows us the knife he used to impale his ID cards on the dashboard of his pickup (shoving the blade through his face on each card), the gun he used to shoot himself and the dog tag he held between the gun and his head, with its clean, round hole.
Finally she reads his suicide note; if you look closely, you can see that it was written on the back of a certificate from the National Rifle Association attesting that he had passed a basic pistol course. “The inside had died so completely that he put that gun to his head and killed the outside as well,” she says.
“Wartorn,” which has its premiere on Thursday night, is the second documentary about veterans’ issues that the filmmakers Jon Alpert and Ellen Goosenberg Kent and the actor James Gandolfini have collaborated on for HBO, following “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq” in 2007. Both films exhibit a respect for the individual soldier that borders on deference, though Mr. Gandolfini, who again conducts interviews, is not afraid to ask difficult questions.
(Click here to read the full story on the NY Times website. On this Veterans Day 2010, may GOD Bless the active-duty soldiers and the veterans who served and the families of those who gave their life defending this country.)