Sunday, December 6, 2009
Last night I saw Brothers with Heather, and walked away feeling deeply, abysmally affected by its powerful performances.
Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is a Marine called to complete his fourth tour in Afghanistan, preparing to leave his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and two daughters. Before he departs, he retrieves his brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), from a stint in jail for armed robbery.
After he goes missing in Afghanistan, the atrocities he endures are portrayed with horrifying realism.
Maguire's performance is utterly raw, reaching depths I'd never known possible.
This film, though I would not necessarily equate it with Saving Private Ryan, had very similar effects on my psyche. It ushered me into an entirely new dimension of empathy for modern veterans of our current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I witnessed the profound isolation that undoubtedly occurs upon homecoming; how a soldier can be surrounded by their nearest and dearest at a homecoming celebration, yet feel completely and utterly alone.
I've seen and read a great deal about post-traumatic stress disorder in recently-returned soldiers, who behave strangely (by our standards) because they have been absent from "civilized life" for so long that daily interactions are often overwhelming.
While they are loved more deeply than they'll ever understand, they cannot help but feel as though no one will ever completely understand what they've experienced. And sadly, they are technically correct.
But films like Brothers can at least teach us civilians to be more sensitive, to be better listeners, to try harder at that most paramount of virtues, empathy.