Skip to Content

Hollywood, War Trauma and the Rule of Money

A simple human story In tumultuous times

Since it’s a story of the aftermath of war, Hall doesn’t waste time in basic training and the usual preliminaries. The opening scene is like being hit in the face with a shovel. Thus, it sticks with you, which, metaphorically, is the point of the film. Trauma is caused by horrific things that come out of nowhere. As human beings, people don’t perform as perfectly as they would, in retrospect, hope. In a life-and-death context where things unfold in milliseconds, there’s a lot there to haunt the thinking/feeling process, sometimes for the rest of one's life. And here’s the kicker, no one can really understand. Wives, girl-friends, relatives, friends; they may mean well, but they often just don't get it. Brothers-in-arms can understand because they’ve gone through their own versions of the same kind of trauma. As young, mostly male soldiers, there’s the constant fear of showing weakness. The result can be explosive; it can turn inward as self-destructive behavior and suicide or outward as aggression and violence.

In a theme that interests me, this film very much comes down on the Eros side of the opposing instincts of Eros (the Life Instinct) versus Thanatos (the Death Instinct). These were designated by Sigmund Freud between the world wars when he became concerned about the rise of violence and fascism in Europe. In his thinking, culture can become besotted and addicted to Thanatos, to the point it becomes self-destructive. The reason I like the Eros/Thanatos continuum, is that it's useful as a means to discuss violence and culture. To me, Hall and Eastwood’s film American Sniper leaned toward Thanatos and the Death Instinct. The real Chris Kyle, a master sniper, kills lots of Iraqis and, in the end (in life and in the film), is murdered by a man immersed in weaponry and, specifically, the gun-range business Kyle ran in Texas. By contrast, in this film -- Thank You For Your Service -- the Life Instinct, Eros, wins hands down.

Writer/Director Jason Hall, Finkel's non-fiction book and the movie posterWriter/Director Jason Hall, Finkel's non-fiction book and the movie poster

The Veterans Administration and the top brass don’t come off well in Hall's film. In one scene back home, a full-bird colonel is the sort of military blowhard Jonathon Winters, a veteran, loved to skewer as Colonel Robert Winglow. “All right, men, don’t worry, I’m 5000 yards behind you on this hill. I have you in the long lenses. Forward, men!” As for the VA, the image is mixed. The film emphasizes the fact that US tax-payer-funded, war-making priorities are heavily front-loaded. There’s plenty of resources devoted to killing and blowing things up, but not so much -- certainly not what’s needed these days of multiple deployments -- to address the silent, hidden, long-term wounds of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The incredible fact that an average of 22 veterans a day commit suicide hovers over this film.

story | by Dr. Radut