One of the first plays and movies to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Journey’s End by R.C, Sherriff (1896-1975 undisclosed) – has recently been remade as a fine movie.
Admirably, the 2017 version of the film has been made in association with Combat Stress, the UK’s leading mental health charity for veterans.
The play was originally written in 1928 and was first turned into a movie in 1930 by director James Whale (1889-1957 suicide, drowned in pool) who would go on to direct Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Ladies note this new version stars Samuel Claflin (1986-) who was Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games. He’s great in a very different role.
Journey’s End is set during World War One (1914-18) in the trenches on the front-line in France. Despite few actual battle scenes, we get a sense of the horror of war and the already affected Allied soldiers as they wait for the next and possible final offensive by the German army.
PTSD does not only affect soldiers on the front line, it can affect policemen, paramedics, doctors and journalists. It can affect children and women and men who have witnessed horror and/or have been the victims of physical or sexual assault or victims of accidents, either industrial, or in cars.
There are even those who can be affected by horror movies!
My eight-year-old sister watched the original The Exorcist with us when we were unsupervised teenagers. What were we thinking? She remembers the movie to this day and has a slightly disturbed nature. I do not recommend subjecting children to horror movies until they are ready, if ever. Even my friend Anne, who is in her fifties, had to discuss the new version of Flatliners (2017) with her psychiatrist she was so scared by it. Don’t take her to a thriller/horror again! I like the original 1990 version better!
I saw Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975) uncut on television as a ten year old and it scared the crap out of me. I love horror to this day as a result. I don’t know why, just the thrill of it all I guess. It is a different feeling to real pulse-quickening fear… it’s only a movie after all and once it ends, okay. There is no real PTSD for me with horror.
We lived in an old house as a kid and I read The Amityville Horror at twelve and that scared me even after putting the book down. But I eventually had a good night’s sleep and was not scarred by the book, although I remember it vividly. The 1979 movie was scary at the time too and I think it’s better than the 2005 remake. I’d like to go into that series of movies another time.
Spare a thought for those who are really visited by ghosts from the past whether they are real or imagined… they suffer true fear. I have had a ghostly encounter late in my life alone in the dark… I don’t want to talk about it!!
So yes, those visited negatively by PTSD and the triggers that set off the anxiety and what can be an ensuing obsession with events and its accompanying depression – the horror is all too real… like living a horror movie every day. Often it is complicated by drug and alcohol.
As Journey’s End shows, it’s as if for some, the trauma of surviving say a battle or skirmish – being a survivor, leaves that person in some sort of limbo somewhere between the traumatic incident and living “happily” in the real world. It will always be up to that person to confront and sort out the issues – take medication, beat addictions – and finally come to grips with beating depression. It is possible even for those who refuse to believe it’s possible… they put it in the too hard basket! Preach! Preach!! At risk of going on – some people are just happy being unhappy!!
In terms of sexual abuse and PTSD, I know someone who along with dozens of other boys was made to perform sexual acts alone for a teacher/counsellor at school in a locked room. The teacher committed suicide upon being revealed and there was no closure despite a Royal Commission into the issue. This person’s career and relationship with his wife and family fell to pieces due to addictions and other issues linked to his PTSD. He is coping now thanks to Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme and the help he is receiving through it.
Another friend was bullied ruthlessly physically and mentally by a father who wanted to “make a man” of him. One of his brothers committed suicide. He lives alone and isolated and suffers from agoraphobia. He is a die-hard Carol Lynley fan (1942-) and I bought him a check signed by her that sits on his mantle.
Anyway it is not only the soldier in Journey’s End who suffers from PTSD. But the soldier who faces trauma suddenly and horrifically as an adult suffers no less…
James Whale’s 1930 version of Journey’s End is often described as dated and “stiff upper lipped”, but the power of the play survives intact in the claustrophobic dugouts and trenches in 1918. Here we have a microcosm of officers and men each affected in their own way by PTSD – or even not at all. It all depends on the person and how they deal with it. Each case is different, as some get stress headaches, others cope through alcoholism, and some pretend that there is nothing wrong with their present situation. For others it’s another day at the office.
Sam Claflin’s Captain Stanhope in the 2017 version is moving as he copes with leading his, often doomed men, by way of the bottle. A fresh-faced friend from school (Asa Butterfield, 1997-, excellent in Ender’s Game (2013) about the depersonalisation of war by remote control) turns up on the front line as a junior officer with no idea of the horrors he is about to face. As the film progresses this wide-eyed innocent will know its true horror and it is through him we see the true ensuing effects of PTSD after battle. Actor Paul Bettany (1971-) is also excellent (the entire cast is great!) as the character nicknamed Uncle because of his caring attitude to the younger men. It is not surprising his character was a housemaster before the war. In fact most of the officers are English public schoolboys as was often the case during The Great War.
Journey’s End shows survivor’s guilt and trauma first hand – but its full effect is felt after the horrors, after that moment of grace under pressure, if you know it – when you must wait eternally in the present where the horrors of the past and possible future remain like some sort of hangover that can only be cured by drink in terms of Captain Stanhope.
In the new version of Journey’s End the word “coward” is struck from the screenplay. It was used in the 1930 version, but now there is more understanding about PTSD and the depth of fear in individuals who face death.
Another film Home of the Brave (1949) mentions the word coward in another context and I will mention that later.
As for films on the front during World War One that deal with PTSD, there is also The Dawn Patrol (1930, 1938). The second version is somewhat more famous because it stars Errol Flynn (1909-59 heart attack). It too deals with a group of men who must go to the front line. This time they are biplane fliers who go on regular bombing missions over enemy territory and have dogfights in the air against the Hun. Flynn looks truly haunted in this movie as young men drink heavily and one breaks down in tears in his arms at the horror of it all.
In The Dawn Patrol the base has its own bar, as it is somewhat behind the front lines, whereas in the trenches of Journey’s End they must rely on rationed bottles of spirits. Flynn toasts with a captured German enemy flier: “ To Death!”
That survivors of battle and army brethren band together in a heavy drinking culture is not surprising. But the resultant depression, day-to-day dysfunction and often poverty and homelessness… show it is not a long-term option.
There was a case of an army PSTD sufferer who suicided recently. He had been drawn to his army mates and the drinking culture. His family tried to get him away from it. He had no luck getting work as he had to disclose his PTSD condition and the government stiffed him when it came to financial assistance as well. His mother told the tale of his depression and suicide to the newspaper…
The champagne and free bar of The Dawn Patrol was used again in Aces High (1975) starring Malcolm McDowell (1943-) and Christopher Plummer (1929-). That film is basically the play of Journey’s End given The Dawn Patrol treatment. Missing is the claustrophobia of the trenches as Peter Firth’s (1953-) blond and blue eyed innocent faces the horrors of war in the air. It is not as powerful as the other versions of Journey’s End but is fondly remembered by those who had no idea of the Journey’s End source material.
The spectre of PTSD in World War II (1939-45) was depicted in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Regarded as a classic, it is one of the first films to show the physical trauma of war, as actor and real life war veteran Harold Russell (1914-2002 heart attack) is a character that has no hands. Russell lost his hands teaching demolition when an explosive went off. Best Years was the first movie to also show how soldiers adjusted for life outside of the army, in some cases only able to get menial jobs.
Russell won an honorary Oscar for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans”. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder destroyed too many families and there was not even this moniker for it after both World Wars. It was called shell shock or battle fatigue among other names. The violence and alcoholism that were symptoms of PTSD went untreated. Their physical wounds healed and deemed fit for society, the mental wounds still unhealed. Yet so many carried on stoically, without comment or carry-on, as productive members of society – perhaps your grandfather or great grandfather. Or your mother or grandmother suffered at their hands, or helped them through their personal demons.
Incidentally, the most decorated soldier in World War II, Audie Murphy (1925-71 light plane crash, bad weather) suffered horrific PTSD. Murphy became the star of his own autobiography To Hell and Back (1955) and countless westerns in the 1950s and 60s. He was a compulsive gambler who slept with a pistol underneath his pillow. His marriage to actress Wanda Hendrix (1928-81 pneumonia) crumbled as a result.
We’ll continue our journey facing PTDS and depression and look at what some call the ultimate PTSD movie, Fearless (1993), in Part Two.