“Restrepo,” the companion documentary to Sebastian Junger’s best-selling book War, diligently follows a US platoon during their 15 month deployment in the Korangal Valley, which had been considered as perhaps the most dangerous posting in the US military. Fittingly so, Restrepo is ugly. Yes, the cinematography is nothing short of beautiful, especially considering the circumstances. One can almost feel the pull of the choppers taking off, the pulse of the guns as they fire. But sharing the hell that these soldiers underwent daily for 15 months, and the contrivances they had created to distract themselves, indeed fills one with awe at just how human war can be; it’s the moments in-between the fighting – somberly strumming a guitar, shuffling through pictures of family, swapping stories about old friends who won’t make it home – that are when the real struggle takes place.
It’s difficult to walk out of Restrepo with much hope for our situation in Afghanistan. For any who have secretly harbored the question, ‘What’s taking so long over there?’ one look at the stunningly forested, unforgiving terrain of the Korangal Valley instantly pushes those doubts aside. And for any who have strong opinions about the morality of this war, whether positive or negative, in the Korangal there’s little evidence to support either view. There are tears at the deaths of US soldiers, and jubilation at the deaths of the faceless Taliban. At this micro level, the larger objective of ‘freedom’ manifests itself in the accidental bombing of a civilian home and its grisly results; the larger objective of ‘equality’ is neatly wrapped up when, after news of 9 US deaths at another location, the sergeant at Restrepo motivates his unit by saying, “Let’s go out there and make those f****s feel exactly how we feel right now.” Where is the difference? What is the objective again?
On many levels, it feels like the struggle to win the hearts and minds of those in Afghanistan has also failed to capture the hearts and minds of the public, Brown University included. Restrepo is a blow to the gut, but one that we should all take.
Restrepo is playing nightly, at 8:35, at the Avon.