Movie Review: Hell and Back Again

Bias, propaganda, and censorship normally fill modern documentary style movies. However, Danfung Dennis does not employ such tactics as he explains the soldier’s blight in Afghanistan. “Hell and Back Again,” the new documentary about the Afghanistan war follows one soldier on his deployment to Afghanistan. Instead of showing viewers the horrors of war with an antiwar bias, Dennis follows one soldier in his first few months of duty until his return to the US.

Filming on his own, Dennis followed soldiers when they entered the battlefield. This allowed him to explore the film with a sense of honesty since he remained so personal with the soldiers. This level of intimacy to the filming also allowed the role of the camera to take on a more humble role. Dennis approaches this documentary with a set of answers instead of a set of questions. This film, instead of asking the soldiers questions, allows the soldier go on with normal day to day activities. A true documentary needed no outside persuasion. Dennis knew his role and allowed the film to develop and take on significance he had not even initially intended to find.

This movie does not display statistics; it aims to develop a relationship between the people fighting in the war and the war itself. To generalize further, “Hell and Back Again” displays war in general, rather than the Afghanistan war alone. Dennis’ opinion on the Afghanistan war is not mentioned. The movie does not even touch on the soldier’s opinion on the war being an endeavour, except for a few lines. This is a movie about the horrors of war and its impacts on military families both on and off the battlefield.

The movie follows around 25 year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris as he navigates the fields of Afghanistan in combat. After he is injured, his life is compared to the average American citizen. Harris’ personality makes him an arrogant main character, but his flaws make him relatable and compelling. The results of Dennis’ individualized approach allows viewers get to know Harris on a much more intimate level and come to recognize the terrors of war without the need to see or discuss the enemy.


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