Winter Soldier

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 17, 2015

This is an extremely disturbing, upsetting movie. It might be customary at this point to say that it’s an extremely disturbing, upsetting movie that everyone should see. Actually, maybe not. You don’t have to be an Israelite without guile or a snow white dove to get traumatically disturbed by this wrenching, nauseating assemblage. But if it’s not appropriate for many audiences, that sure doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have been made. The simple assertion, or maybe the devastating fact, is that My Lai wasn’t an exception, but rather the logical extension and irreducible embodiment of the whole policy and direction of the war. Of war itself?

The no-production value comes off as a virtue, not for any clever reason, but because sometimes production value doesn’t matter. Does it ever? The gradual introduction of photographs and footage is also, maybe, merely a consequence of how they were rushing things together, or creating this as a collective. But it also comes off kind of triumphantly. We might have disbelieved the testimony, wondered whether these young men weren’t either showing off or being too hard on themselves. Then comes the visual confirmation. Afraid not.

Two other things. Winter Soldier is a pretty irrefutable demonstration that profanity and obscenity are not necessarily the same thing. Obscenity is big, deep, an affront not only to the sacred, but to plain, ordinary life itself. Which, as it turns out, is sacred. Profanity can be coarse and cruel and punishing. But it turns out that it can actually function as a moral corrective, an apt and exact expression of inner turmoil, inner terror, and general outrage. Thumper’s mother is usually right, but the bureaucrats and p.r. men need to be vigourously countered when they say nice or say nothing about abominations like this.

The second thing brings us to the very real possibility that this terrible material is actually quite appropriate. The obvious reason is that this happened, and it was a result of government policies, budgetary appropriations and such. Recreational R-rated movies are one thing. The world, supported by your tax dollars, are quite another. Less obvious and more affecting is that these shaggy, haunted young men are terrible sinners. They have sinned by fulfilling orders and then, sometimes, by going above and beyond those orders. Their victims will deplore their names, but they have also hurt themselves really terribly. They need to repent. And if you’ve been on the other side of a confession, or a lancing, or any other purgative act, you know that it’s not nearly as unpleasant as it is necessary. This is the sins are as scarlet part. White as snow comes after…