This Wednesday is Veterans Day in the US. This is an observance loaded with political implications, often invoking “respect” for those who have been part of the military in order to shut down any criticism of the military. Many films about the veteran experience struggle to strike a balance between reverence and humanizing such figures. Here are some movies that go off the beaten path to explore the nuances of these experiences. They can make for good alternative viewing this year.
Released in 2016 but a “period piece” set in the fall of 2008, this film follows a novice nun who takes time away from her convent training to visit her estranged family after her brother comes home severely injured from Iraq. Zach Clark’s mordantly funny indie drama eschews nearly every cliché there is about PTSD, the difficulty of assimilation back into civilian life, and hero narratives of veterans in favor of a gentle look at how people of divergent experiences can come to a mutual understanding.
Available via Amazon Prime.
Sir! No Sir!
The popular narrative of the US War in Vietnam has largely erased the GI Movement — the sizable antiwar contingent within both veterans and active-duty military members. With this 2005 documentary, director David Zeiger not only covers how this movement formed and acted during the war, but also demonstrates how in the decades since, politicians and pop culture have rewritten history to cover up their principled resistance.
Available via OVID.
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On
In the 1980s, filmmaker Kazuo Hara followed a quixotic campaign by Kenzo Okuzaki, a veteran of the Japanese occupation of New Guinea during World War II. Okuzaki wanted answers about the ambiguous deaths of two members of his unit. His aggressive “investigation” (all but bullying fellow veterans) draws out a disturbing, often contradictory series of accounts about the brutality (including possible cannibalism) of the end of the war in the Pacific. Unable to arrive at any of the answers Okuzaki seeks, the film instead lays bare the depraved senselessness of war and imperialism.
Available via Docsville.
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