The Common Good

War as Seen by Those Trapped Inside It

When covering film festivals, I find I have to be careful not to see too many war-themed flicks in rapid succession. I can only absorb so much violence within a relatively short time frame without becoming one of the walking wounded. Still, I am careful to try and see those films that might be difficult for me to watch but I sense they have a greater story that needs to be told.

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Such was the case of Lebanon. Israeli filmmaker Samuel Moaz, who served in the Lebanon war, explained how he penned the screenplay.

I wrote Lebanon straight from my gut. No intellectual cognition charted my path. My memory of events themselves had become dim and blurred. Scripting conventions such as introductions, character background, and dramatic structure did not concern me. What remained fresh and bleeding was the emotional memory. I wrote what I felt.

Set in June 1982, the film follows four men age 20 and up as they set out for a simple mission that slowly spins out of control and turns into a nightmarish death trap. For almost the entire movie, the audience remains trapped inside the tank as we see the outside world from their perspective as they struggle to survive.

When I caught Lebanon at the 2009 New York Film Festival, my mind kept drifting back to Waltz with Bashir, an animated film I saw at last year's festival that was directed and written by Ari Folman, who also served as a soldier in the Lebanon war. Through Folman's use of dark rich brown and orange hues and a haunting score, I could feel beyond my bones the aching sadness of what both sides lose every time we go to war.

I couldn't get to that level of knowing sitting in a tank and seeing the horrors unfold before my eyes. Having said that, a few times during Lebanon the director took me to that place where I could almost taste and smell the carnage around me. At those moments, I felt an odd sympathy toward these men, as I felt an inkling of what it might be like if I had been drafted instead going off to college.

As I prepare for my next trip to the Middle East to conduct research for a forthcoming book, films such as Lebanon and Waltz with Bashir help remind me of the long-term physical and psychological hell that happens to all parties involved when peace seems impossible. Too often shows such as 24 depict a black-and-white view of the "War on Terror." But as Moaz and Folman demonstrate, the reality of a soldier's life both on and off the battlefield is far grayer than those of us who have not served in war could ever imagine.

Lebanon will open this coming spring while Waltz With Bashir is available on DVD.

portrait-becky-garrisonBecky Garrison is featured in the documentaries The Ordinary Radicals and Nailin' it to the Church.

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