In class, we watched Restrepo, an unnarrated war documentary film shot by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger. I really enjoyed watching it, especially because of its candid nature that showed the unpleasant realities of war in Afghanistan. Unlike Hollywood war films, Restrepo was not heavily edited with special effects. All the “pops,” “bangs,” and “booms” we heard were real. All the emotions expressed and felt by the soldiers of Second Platoon, Battle Company were real. All the deaths were real. It was crazy to witness actual footage from the fighting grounds of Korengal Valley.
I thought the journalists did an excellent job authentically portraying war from a variety of angles, both negative and positive. The film showed the platoon’s rudimentary living conditions, the discordance between the U.S. soldiers and the Afghani residents of Korengal Valley, the deaths of fellow friends, and the amplified frustration/anxiety exhibited by the soldiers. Nonetheless, the journalists also succeeded in depicting more positive scenes that don’t usually cross an average person’s mind when he/she thinks about warfare. These included scenes of brotherhood and intimacy, two aspects that are not normally associated with a concept as horrific as war. My favorite parts were when the soldiers blasted upbeat music and carelessly danced around Outpost Restrepo, and the moments when one soldier played his guitar as others sat around him. These are the humanized moments of war that do not get frequently transmitted to the public eye. But, this documentary was able to zoom in and capture these tender moments, which made me smile as I watched.
Given these points, I definitely thought that the documentary was balanced and impartial. I never thought for one moment that the film was tilted towards one specific side, rather it showed a mix of the good and the bad of the Americans and the Afghanis. Moreover, the media has made it easy for the American public to determine all Afghanis as the “other” and as our enemy. But, the documentary defies that preconceived notion and shows Afghani elders who are not categorically grouped as insurgents, but as peaceful residents who cooperate with the U.S. soldiers in order to better their village.
The Vanity Fair article was very well written, which was imbued with a story-like sensation. I could almost picture the words of the writer and the intense imagery he wanted to conjure in his readers. This article included more historical context, in comparison to Restrepo, which jumped right into the heart of Korengal Valley without explaining too much of its significance within larger Afghanistan.
The photographs in the New York Times piece did a good job in representing the photographer’s aim: to rehumanize the war machine.
Holders of Hetherington’s photojournalism book can see that war is not just about brutality, guns, and fighting insurgents. What lies interstitially in this chaotic space is genuine camaraderie. The war might have torn up relationships with Afghanis, but it certainly did not tear up the relationships that these soldiers had with each other. The soldiers of this platoon will kill and die for each other, evidenced by the deaths of fellow fighters and their brothers who vow to avenge their deaths.
Out of all the different outlets that portrayed conflict, I think that Restrepo was the most effective in doing so. With the film, you can see the soldiers physically shooting their guns, playfully fighting with each other, lifting their weights, dancing to music, hanging out at the post, and even crying to the deaths of their fallen soldiers. Moreover, I think sound makes the documentary film more effective than the articles that obviously lack this component. We can hear the soldiers’ weeping, the shots fired, and even the conversations that the soldiers had with the village elders. Lastly, the film was able to display a panoramic view of the Korengal Valley and Outpost Restrepo, which was effective in giving viewers a sense of the dangerous and uncomfortable location where the soldiers were stationed.