Movie Review: "Body of War" by Phil Donahue
Tomas Young called up an Army recruiter on September 13, 2001, wanting to chase down the evildoers that W trumpeted about from the burning rubble in downtown Manhattan. Instead, he wound up in Iraq less than two years later, and five days after setting foot on the soil of that country, he was shot and paralyzed from the chest down. "Body of War," a new documentary from Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro, tells his story.
Shot over the course of nearly five years, the film follows Tomas, his wife, and his mother as they struggle with his injuries and look for a new life together after Iraq. This is not a nuanced film: it is a blunt instrument, intentionally so, that shows the daily and inescapable moments of post-war anguish that only a family can intimately experience. Tomas develops not only into an unsilenced soldier, but an unsilenced recovering person with disabilities -- sex, bodily functions, and much more are out there in a way that often is wondered about but never shown or discussed in excruciating detail.
Where the film stumbles is its use of C-SPAN coverage of Congress debating the war in its leadup to the vote to authorize it. Using a computerized voice to count the "aye" votes along with the names throughout the entire movie is distracting and unnecessary; most of the people who will see this film already know how it went down. The rousing chorus of music (and, at my screening, audience cheering) for those lonely 23 senators that voted no is infuriating. Why celebrate this failure? What, as long as we're principled, we can feel better about ourselves?
The only exception is the footage of Sen. Robert Byrd's moving speeches, which should go on the books as some of the best modern oration. Clearly, the film was moving for the New York City audience I sat with, which included Alan Alda. Alda said after the screening, "Everyone in the theater was moved to tears, at least several times. You can't watch this movie and not be moved. What an achievment."
Tomas -- and especially his mother, with her unwitting insights and clarity -- has a story worth seeing and retelling. Visit BodyOfWar.com for more information and showtimes.