In The Valley Of Elah, a remarkable film starring Tommy Lee Jones, examines the crux of the long-term effects of what, I expect, is a necessary evil of the military lifestyle: the devaluing and dehumanization of the enemy (or perceived enemy), and how that process effects soldiers as they re-enter civilian society.
Jones stars as patriotic ex-military police officer Hank Deerfield. Deerfield's son, Mike, is active military who has recently seen action in the war in Iraq. After returning to the US, Mike goes AWOL. The elder Deerfield travels to the military base to investigate the disappearance on his own, and finds the ultimate tragedy. The discovery shakes Deerfield's deepest held beliefs and convictions, and his perspective on the process of war.
I'm unable to let go of this movie, and find it difficult to write about.
Inspired by the true story of Richard Davis, In The Valley Of Elah is ultimately about how soldiers change during the course of active duty. How they manage to cope with constant stress; sometimes through the dehumanization of the enemy, sometimes by dehumanizing their peers and sometimes by dehumanizing themselves.
Certainly Mike Deerfield--and the real life Richard Davis--did so. He changed, and those around him changed, into something they weren't when they enlisted.
And it cost him his life.
In The Valley Of Elah stays away from the politics of whether or not war is necessary, and focuses on the effects war has on individuals. It's a terrific movie about a issue more people should be thinking about.