This weekend I went to see Brothers, the Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman film about a Marine serving in Afghanistan. While overseas, Sam Cahill’s (Maguire) helicopter is shot down and he is presumed to be dead—which leads his brother (Gyllenhaal) to make a move on his wife (Portman). (Before you continue reading, there are many spoilers ahead.)
I asked my mother if she would come see it with me, but she said she didn’t want to give any money to a movie in which the preview showed the soldier coming back home and waving a gun at his family in their driveway. I have to admit, the preview disturbed me as well, but decided to see the film anyway because I’m always curious about Hollywood’s take on our soldiers and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, many of these films typically portray our soldiers as deserters— Stop Loss is another classic example of this stereotyping—or complete whackjobs.
In Brothers, not only does one of the Marines captured by the Taliban actually say that he “realized we shouldn’t be there,” but Maguire’s character beats a fellow soldier to death with a lead pipe. Sam then returns home to his family and goes AWOL trying to kill both his wife and his brother. I don’t care if every producer, director, and screenwriter in Hollywood is against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and presumably most are), what offends me is the portrayal of soldiers as cowards and lunatics—driven to such lengths that they come home and try to kill their families. Obviously, post-traumatic stress disorder has become more prevalent in the military and clearly this is a problem that needs to be seriously addressed. But I believe these films add to the damage when they portray soldiers as disloyal, unwilling to serve, and against the missions themselves. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
How many deserters do you actually hear about on the news? Not very many. Unfortunately, the thousands of stories about heroism and courage that could be told about our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are not in the interest of many Hollywood filmmakers, and so a real disservice is being done to these troops. These films only perpetuate negative stereotypes about soldiers and the military. At a time when support for the war in Afghanistan is dividing this country, I simply don’t understand why Hollywood insists on portraying our soldiers in such a negative light. If Vietnam taught us anything, it was hate the war, love the warrior.
I urge everyone to see the documentary Brothers at War to understand what it’s truly like to serve (and be the loved one of someone serving) in a war.
Last Memorial Day in Arizona, my parents and the actor Gary Sinise hosted the screening of a documentary called Brothers at War, produced and directed by Jake Rademacher, who has two brothers serving in Iraq. In the film, Rademacher travels to Iraq as a civilian, chronicling the experience as he attempts to understand the motivation and experiences of his brothers at war. It is an honest portrayal of a man struggling to understand exactly why his siblings are motivated to serve and fight in a war overseas. Had my parents not hosted this film, I’m sure I wouldn’t have seen it, because movies like this don’t get the kind of funding or distribution that anti-military films get. I urge everyone to see Brothers at War to understand what it’s truly like to serve (and be the loved one of someone serving) in a war.
Historically, movies like Stop Loss and Brothers don’t do very well at the box office either. Brothers came in third this weekend and Stop Loss grossed a little more than $10 million. I suspect if Hollywood actually attempted to tell a story about heroism instead of desertion, perhaps they’d put more people in the seats.
But I have hope. Marcus Luttrell’s book Lone Survivor will soon be turned into a movie by director Peter Berg, creator of Friday Night Lights. The true story of a Navy SEAL sent to kill an al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan is one of the most amazing, heart-wrenching tales of heroism I have ever read. I hope Hollywood does both the military and the American public a favor by actually producing something inspiring to watch.
Meghan McCain is a columnist for The Daily Beast. Originally from Phoenix, she graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling children's author, previously wrote for Newsweek magazine, and created the Web site mccainblogette.com.