The Moral of 'Body of War': Don't Make Precipitous Decisions
By Marjorie Baumgarten, 3:50PM, Wed. Sep. 19, 2007
I'm sitting here with my pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution, a parting gift I was handed upon my exit from the film Body of War, an eloquent and emotionally moving account of the toll the war in Iraq has had on American soldiers and their families. Co-directed by Austin documentarian and UT professor Ellen Spiro and former talk-show host Phil Donahue, the film is a biting essay on the American Congress' rush to war and the effect of battle on one soldier, Tomas Young. Young enlisted on September 13, 2001 after seeing that iconic image of the president rallying Americans with a bullhorn at the site of the World Trade Center. He was eager to go to Afghanistan and fight the "evildoers," but was instead sent to Iraq, where, on his first mission on only his fifth day in country, he was hit in the spine and subsequently paralyzed from the chest down. Following his return and marriage to his girlfriend, the wheelchair-bound vet eventually became an ardent member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The moral of his story, he says, is "don't make precipitous decisions," and it's a moral also echoed in the words of Sen. Robert Byrd, whose hectoring defense of the Constitution in the months after 9/11 did little to sway his fellow elected representatives to stay the course and not abdicate to the president their power to wage war.
I attended a dinner before the premiere at which I had the honor and pleasure of sitting at a table with Young and musician Eddie Vedder, who wrote and performs a couple of original songs for the movie. Vedder also performed the songs live at the theatre following the screening. But before the mini-concert began, the film garnered the biggest standing ovation I witnessed for any movie at the festival. And though there were Vedder fans in attendance who would have been at any movie that featured music by him (Sean Penn's Into the Wild is another festival film that features Vedder's work), the film's standing O can't be chalked up to the Vedder effect. This audience genuinely moved by Young's personal saga, and the experiences of his wife and mother as they accompanied him on his journey from war supporter to dissenter. Donahue worked the microphone during the Q&A like the seasoned pro he is (he also introduced wife Marlo Thomas, who he joked was sitting in the worst seats in the house - and she was – she waved from the nosebleed section of the balcony), while Spiro appeared to drink it all in.