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A Review of Operation In Their Boots, Pt. 2

(Today, we’re continuing our series of reviews of the documentaries from Operation In Their Boots. Click here to read Friday’s post here.)

Enduring Erebus

(Watch "Enduring Erebus" here.)

Four of the Operation in Their Boots documentaries address the issue of PTSD. Of the four, Tristan Dyer’s Enduring Erebus most perfectly distills PTSD to its dark essence. Unconventional, experimental, Enduring Erebus takes you on a visual trip you didn’t expect you’d take, almost more experimental art than documentary. (That’s a big compliment.)

The concept and execution is simple: four veterans, each suffering from PTSD, narrate their ugly battle with addiction and post-war life. You never see the speakers, only learning their first names. Visually, Dyer interprets these narratives into stop-motion animation; two symbolic figures travel through a hellscape of machinery and forests. If you can’t picture what I’m writing about, that’s because I’m not sure words could describe it. The best films celebrate the visual in ways words can’t do justice.

For me, as I told Tristan after the screening, Enduring Erebus takes a few minutes to get into the film, to learn the syntax of it, but once you’re in, you’re hooked.

Why does this film work? First, Dyer, by making his narrators anonymous, makes them universal. The same goes with the symbolism of the animation. What does it all mean? There are no easy answers, either for the film or PTSD.

I’m a huge fan of experimentation in art, and also a huge fan of surrealism. By going in an altogether different direction than almost anything I’ve ever seen, Tristan accomplishes something you don’t expect: he boils PTSD down to its essence. Please watch Enduring Erebus.
- Eric C

The Academic Front

(Watch "The Academic Front" here.)

The story of two Iraq war veterans struggling to adjust to academic and college life, The Academic Front shows a different side of coming home. Each veteran has different goals. Daniel Wong goes to college to rejoin the fight against Islamic extremism as a counter-terrorism expert. Aaron Huffman goes to college to become a pastor and help other returning veterans.

Chris Mandia was unable to attend the premiere, but I can say this: The Academic Front got the biggest crowd reaction of the films at the premiere, eliciting big laughs and numerous applause moments from the crowd.
- Eric C

Rudy Reyes, The Way of the Warrior

(Watch "Rudy Reyes: The Way of the Warrior" here.)

Rudy Reyes is an successful actor, an author, a veteran, and a warrior. Rudy Reyes was a part of a Marine Recon platoon. And he is also a deeply haunted man.

Victor Manzano glimpses the life of his fellow Marine from childhood to military training to the present. Fraught with hardships in the forms of neglect, abuse, and separation, Reyes fights to become strong and elite like the heroes he has admired since he was a child. Invigorated by the sensations and experiences of combat as well as revelling in the knowledge that he is one of America’s elite warrior, Reyes must somehow acclimate to life beyond service.

Way of the Warrior is a dark look at the life of a well-respected veteran that seems to have transitioned remarkably well to life on the home front. It reveals a hidden struggle with addiction to not just substances, but to the rush of violence.

It takes a minute to find the context and understand the message that Way of the Warrior. Manzano has the deepest respect for Rudy Reyes and it is more than apparent in his direction. At first, it seems like an entirely different documentary altogether. Still, Manzano is ever so delicately able to reveal the darker moments of Reyes’ life honesty allowing for a glimpse of a man who is the best of the best and still beset by past traumas. It’s brutally honest, dark, but still manages to be inspiring.
- Matty P

four comments

Eric, I went to a conference in San Francisco and one of the panelist talked about the military as a Total Institution (Irving Goffman’s term for a closed institution that is separate from the larger society and socializes its members in particular ways… Goffman’s book applied to mental hospitals and others have applied the model to prisons.

Anyway, the sociologists giving the presentation was accompanied by a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist who testifies on behalf of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan accused of war crimes, like homicide, who frequently also have signs of PTSD or other psychiatric symptoms that they didn’t have before going to war. The psychologists said that these veterans accused of murder (usually in an incident arising situationally… like in a bar… someone touching the vet is interpreted as a threat; a husband/wife situation etc) do not have criminal or violent histories prior the enlistment. In the total institution i.e. the military, they are trained to kill. When they come home, there is no period of retraining in which they are taught alternative means to interpret threat and manage actions that, in a war zone, might be interpreted as dangerous. Add to this the symptoms of PTSD such as hypervigilance etc and you have a serious incident waiting to happen, depending on the soldiers role in war and what he did while he was there.

@jaylo any articles or books you’d recommend on total institutions? This sounds like a concept we can use…

The classic is Asylums by Irving Goffman. I have emailed the sociologist to see if he has any articles in PDF in which case I will send them to you.

Especially if he has any articles on the military as a total institution. My gut feeling is that this is a right on understanding of the military, I just need to do more research.