This is not a War Story  Review: A devastating yet knobbly look at PTSD
Talia Lugacy’s “This is not a War Story” opens with a suicide. A young recently returned from combat war veteran hustles through various subway trains. A war song playing in his earphones is his only companion as he gobbles down pills one after the other. Passerbys notice him but no one really cares in this busy world, does it? When the young man is found dead on an empty train, no one is there to attend to him. We only learn later that his name was Timothy Reyes.
This is a shocking opening for a film. We are instantly made aware of the fact that in spite of the warning in the title, death will always loom around this narrative. And death does loom around for the entire film. Soon after the opening sequence, we meet our two main characters. Will LaRue (Sam Adegoke) was the mentor to this young land. The sudden demise of Timothy had put the vet in a serious quagmire of self-doubt, guilt, and hate. Since the pills can only help so much, he finds himself fixated on a multi-generational community of artist veterans.
This place serves as a home, a sort of getaway for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder that various wars raged on humankind have left them with. This group makes handmade paper out of military uniforms, almost as if they are putting their rage and sadness into the shredding, pulverizing, and reconstruction of the skin that they once wore. The other important character here is Isabelle Casale (played by director Talia Lugacy herself).
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She is a recently returned war vet with a dick of a brother and an estranged mother. A crippled leg and a head full of demons is something she is not able to handle. Since her family is so willingly unaware of what to really do with her, she is struggling to make do with her now sorry existence. This is until she finds the aforementioned group. Therein, she finds a familiar place where her silence and inability to really emote her anger, guilt, and trauma find some kind of parallel ground.
Produced by Rosario Dawson, This is Not A War Story has a kind of quasi-documentary tone to its proceedings. Director Talia Lugacy strips down her narrative to the bare minimum and uses actors and real-life veterans to drive home an anti-war agenda. Lugacy’s film wants to willfully cancel out the glorification of war in American cinema. This is why her film has dialogues that run over scenes that proceed the silence. In doing so, she creates a deeply unsettling and uncomfortable atmosphere for her characters.
In a way, the film talks about the pressing issue of not taking mental health seriously. War personals – both men and women have been cornered into a generic idea of strength due to their field of work. Not many people pay attention to the fact that War can completely numb a person. It disturbs their entire existence and dangles their life within moments of absolute unbearable pain.
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The film is a sort of plea to those people who often end up glorifying violence. They celebrate war heroes but never understand the trauma that goes within their shell of an existence. The film – through Isabelle and Will tries to question what it is like to be a soldier forced to do things against their humanity. It is about how ignorant people often become when these people can’t find words to spell out the agony they feel every day.
While it does occasionally romanticizes pain, for most of its runtime, the film is an accurate representation of social anxiety that renders a person helpless. Through sequences of absolute silence (only punctuated with real poetry and conversations by War vets) director Talia Lugacy manages to bring her themes forwards. While there isn’t much room for character development, Lugacy utilizes the downward descend of her characters to paint a real picture of what it’s like to deal with PTSD.
The performances, though muted and static are well worth within the confines of the film. Since there aren’t many dialogues here, both Lugacy and LaRue show their pain through body movement and the kind of whirlwind turmoil they are facing. The sound design and editing, on the other hand, aren’t on par with indie films of the same accord and could have used a better approach. The abruptness of the edit really takes one out of the sequence, diluting its overall impact.
This is not War Story condones the act of War because the impact it has on people who are involved is often overlooked. The lives of war veterans are often lost post the cross-fire of war itself. The film is Lugacy’s plea to people. A plea to be more empathetic towards their fellows. A plea to question and listen to the stories that turn into demons in people’s heads. It doesn’t leave you with a sense of life-changing knowledge, but it sure breaks your heart watching someone ache to an extent that can only see and find a single way out.