I knew Hell and Back Again was going to be an amazing documentary after I began crying within the first five minutes. The film is focused around the life of a US marine who was shot in the hip in Afghanistan. Half of the film is about his recovery process and the other half is actual footage of his squad in Afghanistan. The director did an amazing job at showing both of these stories.
The first thing that really impressed me about the film was the way the story switched back and forth between footage in the US and Afghanistan. One scene in particular comes to mind because the use of sound was so different from any other documentary I’ve seen. It was showing the recovering marine in his car struggling with pain and nausea. His head is down and the sound is of guns shooting and people yelling in battle. As he continues to struggle the scene then switches back to Afghanistan in the heat of a gunfight with the Taliban. Showing the marine in his car with the sound of war in the background made the scene ten times more intense for the audience. The director used techniques like this for the entire documentary and the effect was amazing.
The second part of the film that really made it stick out from other documentaries was the complete realness of the problems with the Afghan war. Two thousand US marines were dropped in the middle of a Taliban controlled area with the goal of taking it over. They invaded the towns and told civilians to leave their homes and send their children away, because there was going to be heavy gun fighting on a daily basis. It’s hard for me to think of what it would be like to have heavily armed men show up at my door and tell me to leave. On top of that they also were informed that the marines were going to be living and using their homes while in the area. The marines move their personal belongings and even kill some of their livestock, the very thing keeping their children alive. I don’t think the documentary tried to make these marines look bad, but in some cases I couldn’t help but feel like these men are doing the wrong thing. It’s a hard situation because there aren’t many places for the marines to go, and likewise for the Afghan civilians.
Aside from the marines invading the homes of these people, the film shows a different side of the marines that one may not normally think about. Marines are trained to be these hard core, no feelings, no remorse type of people. However when they get back to the United States they often feel alone and deeply depressed about the things they have seen and done. For a marine to show that they are anxious or depressed goes against everything they have been trained to be, because it is portrayed as a sign of weakness. The documentary is different from many I have seen about soldiers and war because it follows them after they are back home. The documentary is one that I believe everyone in America should see in order to understand the strife of our soldiers, and the conflict with the war in Afghanistan.