A thesis picture. James arrives home to West Texas from Iraq. He doesn't remember much about the war, and it's soon clear he has post traumatic stress. He takes a job at an abattoir. After an alcohol-fueled fights with co-workers and his wife, he seeks help at the VA. He returns to find she's leaving him until he can regain control. He leaves his dog with his ailing mother and drives northeast to visit an Army buddy and find out what it is he can't remember. His friend won't say much, so James drives on to Walter Reed Hospital where another friend convalesces. Will James find out what he's repressed, and if he does, will it make anything better? What options does he have? Written by
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the source of many ongoing casualties of war. While not a condition restricted only to actual battle, the disorder has become increasingly well understood, even if not always well diagnosed and treated. The Dry Land explores the deep pain and disorientation that affects returning Iraq war veteran James as he tries to reacquire "normal" life in Texas. James becomes increasingly dysfunctional and desperate in the face of normal life.
The melancholic beauty of the film lies in the telling of this story through a highly personal struggle. We experience the effects on James' community of wife, extended family, friends, acquaintances, and others along the way. The horror of war is artfully portrayed without a single flashback to events in military service. This made the movie more effective as a probe into the actual effects of PTSD. We have seen plenty of war footage elsewhere, but not nearly enough of war's effects in day to day lives of the many victims. In reality, we are all the victims of war in one way or another. People like James pay an extremely high price, and our whole society in diminished through all the ripple effects.
The Dry Land exposes a reality of war that we all need to consider, and hopefully translate into action. James' family and friends are ineffective in all their efforts to help, the military appears in a reasonable but impotent light, and no answers are proposed. James really struggles alone despite attempts to lift him. Ultimately we likewise must struggle alone in many ways. The ancient Hebrew prophets cry out again and again against violence and injustice. We readily visualize the immediate effects of violence in blood and killing, but the entirety of the toll is much greater and deeper. "But they do not know how to do what is right," declares the LORD, "these who hoard up violence and devastation in their cities" (Amos 3:10). There is a devastation that still comes into our own cities, far from the killing fields of war. Will we ever count the real cost?
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