How Much the Burden: Stop-Loss


Perhaps it’s first worth noting that 2008’s Stop-Loss, which although timely (and passed quietly), is directed by a woman: Boys Don’t Cry director, Kimberly Peirce (who co-wrote with Mark Richard). Immediately, in that post-9/11 mentality when it comes to Hollywood addressing warfare (although, technically, as a Bad Robot production, it’s not a mainstream picture), the opinions polarize as “with us” or “against us”.

‘Stop-Loss’ follows decorated US Army Seargent Brandon King (Ryan Phillipe) who goes AWOL after being stop-lossed (meaning military service is indefinitely extended by the contracted term by the authority of an executive decision from Bush) for another 15-month tour in Iraq. The film is no doubt clear in its position on the invasion of Iraq, and as King describes, he enlisted in the military in the hopes of protecting his country, but fighting on the front lines in Iraq, realizes that it has become an unnecessary quagmire fueled by the simple desire for retaliation of 9/11. This, furthered, by the teeth-grinding level of frustration that those in Washington who administer the war, are so far from removed to even properly consider the realities of not just foreign policy decisions, but more specifically the life of the solider, even beyond the subject of stop-loss. That beyond simply the honor and pride of military service, those in combat also wrestle with the consequences of death and injury, of bureacracy, of family and friendship, mental illness, and obviously much more.

King returns home to small-town Texas with two of the troops he served with in Iraq. One of them — Steve (Channing Tatum) — is certain that a military career is inevitably his destiny, although he fails to consider the impact on his finacee, Michelle (played by Australian native, Abby Cornish) who is certain she is not strong enough for the accompanying destiny of being a military wife. “I can’t go another year without touching his face,” she admits to King. Tommy (Joseph Gordon Levitt), perhaps the most cocky of the squad, soon turns juvenile mistakes into bigger detriment, risking his marriage and career of military service. And, a survivor of the ambush they faced in Iraq before shipping back, Rico (Victor Rasuk), is now a blinded and scarred amputee recovering in Walter Reed Hospital.

Most simply but quite loudly, Stop-Loss asks how much of a burden one person should be asked to carry. There is the habit to unquestionably grant the title of “Hero” to anyone who has served in the military, and whether or not this is appropriate, by doing so, we attach a requirement that they carry the burdens, no matter how many there are to bare. In Stop-Loss, Brandon King’s reluctance to return to Iraq is largely because, due to his rank, he has seen many of his troops killed in battle, and does not want to be responsible for the deaths of any more. “I’m tired of the killing,” he explains. That he would have to give up another 15 months of his life living in the battle zone is the least of his worries. Though this is another “War is Hell” theme, Kings’s concern is much greater and done with at least some level of honesty in that, he doesn’t express the regrets the death of the Iraqi’s, but of his own men. It is a very real dissection of the US soldier. Why must he be expected to shoulder such an incredible burden just because he wears a military uniform? This is perhaps the most reticent question of ‘Stop-Loss’ and one that we rarely consider because discussion of Iraq is almost never viewed in human terms on any level. None of it made real enough for the considerations and discussions of people who experience this only through the filters so many miles and coasts away.

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One Response

  1. I only watch movies about soldiers if the characters are from poor towns in Mississippi.

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