Another good movie to see about PTSD is Home of the Brave (1949) which features a black protagonist who is literally paralysed by PTSD from fighting the Japanese in World War II. Based on a play and produced by the socially conscious Stanley Kramer (1913-2001 pneumonia), it is one of the first movies to look at the treatment of PTSD, long before it was even termed such as such. The soldiers were often seen as just cowards at the time. Home of the Brave uses flashbacks as it deals with the horrors of war, psychological trauma and racism. It proves that therapy with the right psychiatrist really can work and that it is the only real option for those with PTSD – even though there may always be triggers in the “cured”.
I met one US soldier who served in Iraq as a young man. He said the rush of anxiety of his PTSD could be triggered by a car backfiring or fireworks and could leave him quivering, but otherwise he functioned perfectly well.
As the once paralysed soldier in Home of the Brave jokes to a fellow comrade who doubted him before being cured through therapy: “Hey coward, take my coward’s hand.” They leave the clinic together, friends.
By the end of the war in Vietnam, the effects of PTSD were exploited as well as explored in movies. There were horror movies with disturbed war veterans like William Grefe’s (1930-) Stanley (1972) and the Canadian horror Rituals (1977) that saw murderous characters take revenge. We all like a good revenge story!
For me it was The Deer Hunter (1978), which I first saw at fourteen, with Christopher Walken’s (1943-) Nicky playing Russian Roulette that really brought home the far-reaching effects of PTSD on veterans adjusting to life after the horrors of Vietnam.
Over the years there have been other good ones, such as Coming Home (1978). My paternal grandfather took me to see it at twelve, cunnilingus scene and all, when it played on a double bill with Casablanca. I went back the following night! Tom Cruise (1962-) in Oliver Stone’s (1946-) Born on the Fourth of July (1989) is another. Then there is Stone’s (1946-) celebrated Platoon (1986) and Heaven & Earth (1992). The latter featuring Tommy Lee Jones’ PTSD suffering character, it looks broadly at how war and PTSD can affect an entire nation! In this case Vietnam and the United States through the eyes of a young Vietnamese woman. It is an underrated movie.
Further, the coming of age film In Country (1989) is another look at a damaged Vietnam vet soul within a dysfunctional family and features what is probably the best performance ever by Bruce Willis (1955-). It’s a forgotten gem.
The power of love and faith needed along with psychiatric intervention in PTSD is best summed up in The Ninth Configuration (1980). This film is a masterpiece. While I can relate to Scott Wilson’s (1942-2018 leukemia) character undergoing a existential crisis/mental breakdown, it is Stacy Keach’s mentally war-scarred character which is the main reason for watching. Set in a mental hospital in the mountains at the end of the Vietnam War, it is written (1966 novel) and directed by William Peter Blatty (1928-2017 multiple myeloma), who wrote the original novel The Exorcist (1971 novel, 1973 movie).
Keach’s character suffers from PTSD to the point where he has lost his own identity and has taken on one as the head psychiatrist at the hospital. As the film progresses, Scott Wilson’s character asks if man’s existence is pure chance (water, just add bacteria) and that there is no God? But Keach argues that man’s self-sacrifice, is inspired by God and that is the reason for man’s goodness… I don’t want to give too much of it away for I find The Ninth Configuration rather profound and often quite funny. The Leo DiCaprio movie Shutter Island (2010) steals an element from this movie as it shows the lengths people will go to help another human being – and continue despite little or no hope of recovery.
If you suffer from PTSD alone – don’t give up hope. You are not the only one and there is help available. Whether you suffered from a poor or abusive upbringing like in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964) and Ellen Burstyn’s (1932-) character in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002), or were the childhood victim of sexual abuse like Nick Nolte (1941-) in The Prince of Tides (1991). Another more tragic childhood abuse victim is Edie Sedgwick (1943-71 sleeping pill overdose) in Factory Girl (2006). Perhaps you had a shocking death in the family like the accident in Ordinary People (1980), the suicide in What Dreams May Come (1998) or lost a child like in Rabbit Hole (2010) and Collateral Beauty (2016). Maybe you went to war and think you face a life like the characters in The Fisher King (1991) and Taxi Driver (1976)… You need friends and a connection.
Some no longer have family or friends in this impersonal world of on-line disconnection and through testing them all to the very limit. Some people are pushed into the realms of criminality and as a result may not care if they or anyone else lives or dies, like “Dick” Hickock in the film In Cold Blood (1967).
After ten years of untreated depression, I eventually looked at myself and learned how I ticked. In the end, with faith in a higher intelligence, I understood myself and conquered depression. I stopped making excuses for depression! I was sick of staring into the abyss of the past and a dim future. The Nietzschean in me had survived a three storey jump and grown stronger but had also finally outgrown Nietzsche’s nihilism and lack of faith. God maybe dead as Nietzsche wrote but God may not be the only higher intelligence in the universe!
You’ve got to decide where the party of addiction and negativity ends and do something constructive, or you are doomed to repeat the same depressing day, kind of like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (1993). That does have a happy ending. Love that movie!
But not everyone can look at themselves and then take on depression due to brain damage from physical trauma or drugs causing ante-retrograde amnesia, which was used in the cult favourite Memento (2000). Or drugs may be a continued problem for you and your family like Beautiful Boy (2018)…which, incidentally, has a happy ending despite its ending, as it is based on the drug addict’s memoir. It’s possible.
Again, drug and alcohol addicts are often abandoned by family and in the end the addict is left to “save” themselves, or perish. Sadly, that’s how it works.
Someone has also called Peter Weir’s (1944-) Fearless (1993) the ultimate PTSD movie. Where someone might get PTSD after a traumatic car crash, the character in Fearless survives a plane crash and as a result goes through a catharsis. He has shed his former self and tells people he no longer believes there is a God, in fact he thinks that he has died and can no longer lie as a result. Instead he feels trapped in a world filled with the lies of other people. He achieves a sort of spiritual freedom in the present but it sometimes leaves him unable to function with others.
For Jeff Bridges’ character in Fearless, the PTSD is a positive experience for him but negative for many of those around him, including his family, who don’t understand what has happened to him. Usually PTSD causes negative emotions and experiences for both the person who suffers and his/her friends and family.
What Fearless does show is that people with similar forms of PTSD can share a bond and it is not uncommon that friendships among sufferers form as a result. Prince William recently spoke of this when he revealed to a group of soccer players that he could relate to and formed a bond with people who lost a family member at a young age. His mother was killed while he was only a young teenager. He said we should talk about it as: “We are not all robots”.
Unfortunately, the banding together of those who suffer often happens as a bravado-filled drinking culture and not a talking about the issues culture. Fearless is probably the first movie to actually mention the phrase PTSD but the psychologist in the movie is sadly clueless and disassociated as a result, which is one of the faults of the movie.
Things have improved since 1993 in terms of professional help I hope but it is up to the individual to face issues and help themselves. Fearless also says, enjoy the small things in life, a form of “mindfulness” (a key word in treating depression), like eating a ripe strawberry. Or going for a walk. Get outside your head.
Like me in this article, Bridges’ character means well, and he wants you to share his bright outlook – but again, some don’t want to let go and deal with the past and prefer to wallow in the past or possible future and resultant depression.
As another character in Fearless says to Bridges after she is “awakened” by Bridges’ testing of God/suicide attempt after he drives a car into a wall: “You can’t save everybody Max… you’ve got to take care of yourself.” Just don’t drive into a brick wall, or jump three storeys again!! Jesus in the wilderness wisely didn’t test God and jump off a cliff at the devil’s suggestion. Good rule of thumb as nihilist acts like these physically hurt, even if, according to Bridges, we are dead already! But even Christ is almost tempted in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), showing him to be human after all. Crazily this film was banned in one Australian state upon release. Now Christ is someone who went through utter trauma and apparently didn’t suffer PTSD! I guess it’s that faith thing again!! Hell, did he suffer…
The end of Fearless is truly moving and the writer wrote it after surviving a car accident and reading about a catastrophic air disaster. It contains one of Jeff Bridges best early performances as he finds a divine peace. We learn though that he has glimpsed something – a white light – and something grows from an obsession with this. Whether it is a higher intelligence here on Earth or one waiting in the next realm, in the end he happily accepts it and finds peace in what the future holds. He is prepared for his own death.
Finally, I tell you what is a good movie though, about a group of army veterans suffering mental problems and undergoing “evaluation”, is the rather recent action movie The Predator (2018). That film proves that when asked to go into battle again, whether it is on the frontline fighting aliens, or just joining the queue at the supermarket… There is still such a thing as grace under pressure!
And here is where the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder journey ends!!