So I decided (possibly against my better judgment) to watch Jarhead again.  I haven’t seen it since it was in theatres back in Nov 2005.  I ordered it from Amazon as soon as it came out on DVD (and got the soundtrack), but I guess I’ve been avoiding watching it again since then.  It’s definitely not much of a “background movie” (although I am writing this as I watch), so it doesn’t usually make the Sunday morning “paper and a movie” schedule.  And I guess I’ve built it up in my mind as being something I get ready to deal with before watching, like Behind the Lines (British movie about Siegfried Sassoon recovering from shell shock in WW1).

Maybe I’m able to watch it with a little more distance because I’ve seen it before, or because I have the option of looking away (unlike in a movie theatre).  But even the second time, it’s no less beautiful and thought-provoking.  Sure, Swofford’s character might be a little self-indulgently intellectual, but war memoirs are told by the literate, the reflective, and above all those who can’t stop thinking about their war.

Swofford’s own narrative (his novel/memoir of the same name) aside, though, the music and visual aspects of the film are really what make it beautiful.  I can’t speak from experience in the desert, but all I can say is:   Desert sunset.  Heat-wave mirage as the soldiers appear over the horizon.  Burning oil fields.

And I can’t help but think of the always-present landscape in soldiers’ narratives:  the desert, literal or manmade through heavy artillery.  Soldiers described the ruined villages of northern France as like Pompeii, the wastelands of No Man’s Land and the trench systems as Hell.  Swofford’s desert, like his war, is a barren one – sand and sky, no enemy, no civilization, nothing but the outposts of the army itself and the constant awareness that the actual war is being fought by aerial bombing.  But both are surreal, so far removed from “ordinary” civilian experience that they are both horrifying and fascinating.

And speaking of fascination, I have to admit – that alone, that indescribable experience of the surreal, might in itself be enough to convince me to go to war.

“Every war is different.  Every war is the same.”

I could go on and on about this movie, but since it’s over, so is this post.


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