Yesterday’s Restrepo-meets-Rachel Maddow post got two whole responses…yes! Moviebob noted that Big Hollywood people “are pissing and moaning about this one for the same yet totally opposite reason — they’re mad that it’s just-the-facts approach is ‘hiding the truth about the war being just,’ and here on HE I’m reading that it’s ‘hiding the truth about the war being a lost cause.’ And then AH wrote that Restrepo “shows that to the soldiers on the ground, reasons don’t matter.”
Yeah, sure — reason and context don’t matter. Just do the job, get your three squares and sleep in a warm cot. The American mantra at home and abroad!
Restrepo‘s Afghanistan grunts don’t seem to know or care if U.S. forces are winning, losing or in a stalemate. No thoughts whatsoever about the world beyond their perimeter. And so in the spirit of honest on-the-ground reporting Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington did more than submit to this mindset during filming. They also edited Restrepo in such a way as to persuade audiences to embrace this no-bigger-picture, keep-your-head-down attitude while watching.
To some Restrepo is the summit of straight-dope, you-are-there, no-agendas-or-interpretation documentary filmmaking. To guys like me it’s about the avoidance syndrome that filmmakers have learned is the only way to go if you’re dealing with the Middle East conflict — don’t contextualize or interpret or ask “what does it all mean or amount to?” because average Americans will ignore you if you do.
The lesson is simple: Just keep your Middle East war doc plain and non-judgmental and Hurt Locker-ish and you’ll get a lot of critics on your side, and some people might actually watch your film when it plays on HBO or PBS or wherever. But go the Michael Moore-Oliver Stone route and you’re severely limiting your audience.
What’s so bad about just telling it like it is, right? The Afghan grunts are just into taking the fight one day at a time, cleaning their weapons, making nice with the locals as best they can, watching each other’s backs in firefights, wailing with grief when one of their own gets killed, talking about girlfriends back home…eating chow, catching zees, smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo “so don’t tell me I’ve nothin’ to do.”
War is so much more digestible or at least tolerable if you keep your head down and avoid dealing with unnecessary complications and save your brain for the immediate stuff in front of you that you have to deal with.
Which, come to think of it, is the way a lot of regular Middle Americans handle life in the U.S. of A….no? Keep it simple and local, dumb it down, don’t read or inquire too much and get yourself in a tizzy, watch Fox News, stick to the basics, wash the dishes, pick up a bucket of KFC for dinner, change the oil, take the kids to school, walk the dog, feed the cats, join a health club, pay the bills, mow the lawn and go to the pet store and buy a couple of white rats to feed to your pet python.
People who live and think this way domestically are the salt of the earth — the folks who live their lives and pay their taxes and attend concerts in the park and go to ice-skating rinks and have pool parties in the backyard. If you want to sound like a misanthrope you could also call them the American walking dead — the go-along shopping mall zombies who make the American heartland such a wonderfully boring and submissive place to live in. (This is the central observational backdrop of Green Day’s American Idiot, of course.) But let’s not go there.
So its a mirror-image thing. Restrepo is essentially about an Afghanistan War/U.S. troops version of the basic American head-down, know-nothing attitude, and vice versa. Surviving, getting along, tending to the basics and so on is the way most people deal with life — I get that — but there’s no way this go-along attitude, either on domestic or foreign soil, is what anyone might call “interesting.” And capturing it is not my idea of stirring filmmaking. It’s more like an exercise in submission or sedation, even.