The Impact That "This Is Not a War Story" Hopes to Make is Great
An anti-war non-war film. A domestic meditation on National sins, and those who are forced to live with it all.
Just before the climax of This Is Not a War Story, the platonically-connected characters of Will and Isabelle are camping out by a nice fire. After a whole movie’s worth of trying to speak and failing to articulate what they want, the pair begin to open up some. In one particular moment, Will expresses his distaste for Hollywood’s approach to War. And after listing off some well-known pop military flicks, he states matter of factly, "… f**k Saving Private Ryan.” I could go on the Film Twitter train and criticize this line, about how the character and the filmmaker Talia Lugacy just don’t understand the nuances and themes of Spielberg’s movie, or some such silliness. However…
… such an act would be a waste of space and a betrayal of sorts. This Is Not a War Story is, as described by Lugacy in an article on Talkhouse, a hybrid film that combines a cast of actors with real people - real U.S. Military veterans, that is. Lugacy’s craft here is at once dynamic, loose, and controlled, at least by way of finding the right compositions in the right improvisational moments. She portrays the female veteran character Isabelle, one of only a few roles cast with actors. With this perspective of being in scenes herself, the director is able to be immersed in all real-world tales and experiences from very real individuals who faced down too real scenarios of genuine horror. Isabelle is played with a tough front covering a wounded spirit, seeking a way to just be. To perform a role is one thing, to perform as director and actor is another, but to be the director and act as a person who is acting herself is pretty stunning.
The film follows her, Will (played by Sam Adegoke), and a "ragtag” group of veterans as they make paper-based art from transformed uniforms. Idle hands are the devil’s playground as has been said, but what of hands that have previously dealt out terror in the name of ____? They must continue to work, huh? That’s the burden of those who survived battle in This Is Not a War Story, and that’s what they’ll have to do time and time again. Peace may never be theirs to carry.
The nature of this film’s soulfulness is overwhelming, and rivals that of the psychedelic "this is Vietnam” picture Apocalypse Now. Never boastful or content, This Is Not a War Story isn’t merely anti-war, but pro-now. Pro-now in what way? Through confrontation. This movie is now, and their stories are always now. Never is the film without an experience to tell from the vets. As they shred old uniforms, they go over what they saw, what they felt, and what’s happening today. Time blurs at a point in the movie, and the narrative feels like that which has been and will forever be told - only, this is the actual first time. It’s hybrid sure, but also determined. Resolutions are a privilege, it says. All of them.
When Isabelle breaks through some major anxiety and faces the mother who disowned her upon enlisting, there’s no comfort to be had or, at least, not in the easily understood way. As the mom applies makeup and pops a few pills, she turns ugly speech into heartbreaking u-turns. For Isabelle, there’s no happy "ending,” as her story will never end. It’ll live past her life even, and exist within many others. But life does move, and always forward.
Why don’t we get these kinds of films pushed more? If the pen is mightier than the sword, then movies like this can stir discussion of what has been ignored and set aside for a day that’ll never come. This isn’t a depressing movie, even if I’ve made it out to seem like that. Revelations come with talking and, really, just being there. With graceful tact, technical prowess, and a proudly assertive voice, This Is Not a War Story mashes real people and real worlds with loud cinematic bravado. It’s a film that’ll be around should anyone want to watch and listen or, rather, should anyone know it’s around.
Oh, it’s around. Like Saving Private Ryan, only… will it be passed by? 5/5