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Body of War tells a sad story in its silences

Posted at 4:34 PM on May 15, 2008 by Euan Kerr

Phil Donohue's documentary "Body of War" tells the story of Iraq war veteran Tomas Young. A bullet in the spine paralyzed him from the chest down less than a week into his first tour in Iraq.

Or perhaps it would be better to say the film tells the beginning of Young's story.

We see his wedding day, not long after he is discharged from the hospital. We follow him as he becomes more politicized, joining Cindy Sherman outside the President's ranch in Crawford, and then going on the circuit to speak about his experiences.

He also begins to wrestle with his longer term challenges: dealing with his medical condition, working on his marriage, and worrying about a younger brother who is on his way to serve in Iraq too.

Throughout the film Donohue and co-director Ellen Spiro pound on the linkage between the speeches made in favor of invading Iraq and Young's situation, cutting between speeches from the debates on the Senate and House floors and the next chapter in his story.

Yet the power of the film lies in the small quiet moments when we as viewers see Young contemplate his future. We all long for happy endings. We all long for miracles. They may well wait for Tomas Young. But so do years of struggling to keep his pain-killers and other medications straight, the ignominies of catheter use, and the nagging questions of what if? And why?

They are unanswerable of course, which makes the sadness of those small silent moments all the deeper.

May 2008
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