BWW Review: FROM SHOCK TO AWE - Healing the Spiritual Injuries of War
FROM SHOCK TO AWE is a searing and gut-wrenching documentary that begs for as broad an audience as possible ~ because we need to understand far better and address with a greater sense of urgency the compounding of tragedies inflicted on the men and women who have served our nation on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On the one hand, the film is a deeply human and intimate portrayal of two veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an uplifting account of their unconventional path to recovery.
It is as well a profoundly important call to overcome the senseless impediments to the availability of viable treatments (cannabis, ayahuasca, and MDMA) that can relieve their trauma.
Director Luc Côté, in collaboration with Dr. Janine Sagert, a renowned expert in transformative healing, fixes his camera on the shared journey of Matt Kahl (U.S. Army Infantry) and Mike Cooley (U.S. Army Airborne, MP) from trauma to recovery and renewal.
For anyone who has not served in the killing fields of war, it is impossible to comprehend the physical and psychological stress of daily confrontations with uncertainty and mortality, the alien environment into which soldiers are thrust to live or die, to kill or be killed. And then, the crisis of re-adjustment upon their return. Côté is masterful in informing, as best as one can, such a sensibility ~ juxtaposing relatively serene images of the home front with dramatic ones of the battle front.
The lens is merciless, as it should be, in capturing the tears and trembling, the anxiety and depression, of men who lost their identities in the fog of war and now, returned to home, struggle to redefine themselves and re-enter society. We see the impact on their families ~ loyal spouses and innocent children ~ awaiting a return to something called normalcy.
But, of course, these visual contrasts are hardly enough to capture the displacement and terror that remains embedded in the veteran's psyche upon his/her return home. It is here, in the attention to Matt and Mike's words, their brutally candid testimonials of pain and vulnerability, that Côté excels. Both men have the requisite time and space to tell their stories. To speak of the flashes at night that awaken them with memories of incoming mortar. To acknowledge that they spent their formative years learning to kill. To recall bagging dismembered body parts.
The horrors are not released until a strategic and therapeutic retreat at Soul Quest Ayahuascua Church of Mother Earth, where the veterans experience relief and spiritual renewal after imbibing ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew that has its roots among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin. The point is crystal clear that, after being inundated with an array of psychotropic drugs that only exacerbated their condition, hope lies in the alternative spiritual medicines.
As Côté tracks their process of jubilant enlightenment and follows up with them in the ensuing months ~ as their recovery and renewal unfolds on the screen ~ the films prefatory statements take on added power.
First, there is the terrifying reality and national shame that, "of the 2.7 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, approximately 20% have been diagnosed with PTSD"and "every day, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide." Add to these sobering statistics the fact that, "of the nearly 6 million veterans who sought treatment at facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 535,000 were treated for PTSD in 2014 alone... and "only an estimated 50% of all veterans with PTSD ever seek treatment."
Yet, there is in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh (True Love) an uplifting message of hope and possibility that is embodied in Mike's vision "to teach the world to transcend violence as a political tool." That declares, who better than the witnesses to war to advocate for the peace! "Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If Veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again."
FROM SHOCK TO AWE is one of the featured films at this year's ILLUMINATE Film Festival in Sedona, Arizona ~ May 30th-June 3rd. The Festival is considered to be the premiere film festival for the emerging conscious film industry market.
The Journey Within poster credit to Cameron Gray