Documentary: Hell and Back Again (2011)
An early scene in Hell and Back Again is reminiscent of the opening scene in Patton (1970). An officer addressing his troops in Afghanistan tells them, “forty or fifty years from now when you’re sitting around with your grandchildren, they are going to ask you what you did in the Summer of Decision in Afghanistan.” Unlike Patton, this officer does not suggest “I shoveled shit in Louisiana” as an answer to that question.
Hell and Back Again director Danfung Dennis was embedded as a photojournalist with the US Marines in 2009. When the Marines launched a major assault against the Taliban, troops were inserted behind enemy lines--within hours US Marines Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment was attacked from all sides. Sergeant Nathan Harris was a member of that unit.
For six months, Sgt. Harris lead the second platoon further into insurgent strongholds. He was severely wounded in an ambush just before his deployment was to end. When we see him next he is inventorying his many prescription medicines on the way to a North Carolina WalMart with his wife, Ashley.
Hell and Back Again is not another documentary about the war in Afghanistan. Instead, it “evolves from a war exposé to the story of one man’s personal apocalypse.” Footage shot in Afghanistan alternates with film of Harris’s return and readjustment to civilian life, recovery, and recollection of events in the war. He expresses his opinions on politics, war, and Halo, undergoes medical treatment and physical therapy, and shares his progress and disappointments.
Scenes from Afghanistan include interaction with displaced villagers, battle, and the reality (and frustration) of being on the ground in enemy territory. Hell and Back Again exposes the real cost of war and reveals the struggles and stresses of those returning, their spouses, and families. On January 24, 2012, it will be available nationally through a “platform release across Cable VOD, digital download and streaming platforms, Blu-ray, and DVD.”