Dennis used his time in Afghanistan well, gathering very well shot footage that show Harris and the other Marines -- both commanders and grunts -- trying to safely, effectively negotiate complex plitical and cultural terrain that they clearly don't understand. Time after time, we are privy to conversations between troops and Afghans -- communicating through a translater -- are saying things to each other that show that they are completely at odds in how they see the immediate future unfolding. The American presence seems the result of political machinations rather than in response to Afghans' needs, or what they see to be their needs.
Dennis' Afghanistan footage is beautifully shot and well woven into the film's overall narrative arc, even as flashbacks as Dennis follows Harris home to North Carolina and, there, chronicles the Marine's life after war.
A Period of Adjustment
Harris' difficulties in adjusting are exacerbated by his being in constant and devastating pain from his injuries. Doctors warn him that he is in danger of becoming addicted to opiates and other painkillers. He distracts himself by spending an inordinate amount of time playing war-oriented video games. And, although he's able to strike up acquaintances at the mall, he has problems relating to his loving and dutiful wife, friends and family, all of whom dutifully attend to his needs. It is certainly clear to the audience that Harris' life will never be the same, and it's heartbreaking to watch him come to that realization, too -- and to see the difficulty his wife has in accepting the fact that the husband who came home from combat in Afghanistan simply isn't the same man who proudly marched off to deployment with Echo Company. In one scene, where Harris is trying to teach his wife how to shoot a gun that she can barely bare to touch, it's clear that they are miles apart emotionally. She is certainly loyal to him, but you wonder whether she'll be able to sustain that, and if not, what will become of Harris, who is now quite dependant on her?
Harris is Everyman
Dennis doesn't get preachy in telling Harris' story. He's an empathetic yet objective observer who gives you access through his lens. But, without Dennis framing it as such, you can see that, by extension, Harris' story is the story of any Marine who's faced combat chaos in Afghanistan and came home, hoping to pick up where he's left off. Similar stories are chronicled in other current war documentaries such as Where Soldiers Come From, Restrepo, The Battle for Marjah, Body of War, and Armadillo, among others, that, grouped together, provide a heavy-hitting arsenal of arguments that should convince any and everyone that finding a nonmilitary solution to international conflicts would be a lot more effective -- in the short and long term -- all around.
- Where Soldiers Come From
- Stop Loss
- In Battle For Marjah
- Full Battle Rattle
- Body of War
- The Hurt Locker
- Title: Hell And Back Again
- Director: Danfung Dennis
- Theatrical Release Date: October, 2011 (limited)
- Running Time: 88 mins.
- Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
- Locations: Afghanistan and North Carolina
- Language: English, Pashtun with English translation
- Distribution Company: New Video
- Official Website