17 June 2014

trauma and hope: edge of tomorrow

Kit here.

This is more of a personal essay than a review, to be honest, because as much as I'd like to do a more objective review of the film Edge of Tomorrow - I grew up as a military dependent. Or, in more casual terms, a military brat (a neutral term, not negative, and possibly derived from "British Regiment Attached Traveler") in the United States Air Force.

Because of that, I want to talk about damage, and hope.

Now, as a military brat, I was not "in the military", in the traditional use of the term. I didn't volunteer to be a soldier. I never went through training. And until the last couple of years, I did not receive educational benefits like the GI Bill (now, the GI Bill can be transferred to spouses and dependents if eligible). So there are simply some things that soldiers experience, that I won't.

But that all being said, military dependents like spouses and children do get to see other things, good and bad. Alcoholism is rampant. Classism. Silence. Relatively easy access to world cuisine, thanks to commissaries stocking favorites from Germany, Korea, and so on. Rigorous expectations. Lack of privacy, even if you live off-base. Class divisions by rank extend even to spouses and children - who should rightly have no rank, but are called "Lieutenant X's wife" or "Lieutenant X's son" and accorded privilege (or not) based on the rank and status of the military family member. Skin color becomes less important - not to say that racism doesn't exist in the military (it does), but that within a military structure, rank and status dictates so much of expectations and behavior. Moving boxes get left in the basement or in storage, only opened when needed, just in case a call to relocate and uproot comes again. But for dependents? We didn't sign up for this. We lose a lot of these benefits at 18, or 23 depending if we go to university. We are never considered "in the military", yet have to deal with pressure cooker environments, absences, lack of support networks, and losing friends constantly.

For some of us, we turn inward. We lose hope.

What use is there in making friends, if we're just going to move in 18 months? Or two years? Or three? Or - on a more common note: what use is there in trying to answer the "where are you from" question, when there's a list? When civilians don't realize that they're really asking a number of questions, and those questions can have completely different answers?

Even the best of us get tired. We want the familiar. Or at least, we want our lives to make sense. We want to hold onto something; faith, maybe. Family loyalty. Our spouse, or our own family or friends. Something. Anything.

In the film Edge of Tomorrow, much is made about Major Cage's unsuitability to front line combat. This character is a PR / Media Relations officer; his job is to promote his branch, promote the resistance against the alien enemy, get people to join up. Give people hope, in other words, that fighting is not useless.

Throughout the film, there are times he loses hope. He watches a penal squad that he was assigned to (under... less than honorable conditions) get slaughtered in a rush on a French beach, calling up memories of World War 2's Normandy to the viewers. He watches drop ships explode, over and over. The enemy is incomprehensible; nobody knows what the enemy even might be after, just that humanity is doomed if they win. There's no reason to fight, except that humans must: and as much as Major Cage tries, he keeps seeing others die - from squad mates to commanding sergeants to the "Angel of Verdun" to himself to even an entire city falling.

Yes, he quickly becomes combat-ready. He quickly figures out how to fight, how to roll under cars, and so on - but only because of repeated cycles of screwing up. But in the film, there is a scene with Major Cage and Sgt Vrataski at a farmhouse. They find a helicopter nearby, and Vrataski wants to get it ready to fly; Cage tries to persuade her to stay a bit and tend to her injuries, or siphon the gas, or have some coffee. Anything except starting the engine and flying it out.

She presses the issue. Insists. Forcefully. She realizes Cage knows something she doesn't.

"You die." He ends up explaining. "This is as far as you go."

He wants to remain in a place where she, at least, does not die. Not this time. He has hope, but he's damaged. He wants a small bit of happiness, even if he knows he'll just be repeating the same day over again, and she'll likely die somehow anyway. But if all he sees is death, he has to make himself believe there's something besides death and destruction. Somehow.

He wants to cling to hope. The very person whose role it had been to give hope to others, now realizes how important hope is.

He has trauma, certainly. He's tired. He has to repeat a lot of events over and over, and when he can't, he's thrown off - he doesn't know how things will go, he doesn't know if he'll be able to defeat the enemy that he does not know, cannot explain. But despite all this, despite all of what he's seen and done, he still manages to internalize hope and move forward.

Even when he doesn't expect to move forward, he does: and then seems to take a small amount of comfort/happiness in what he can.

He smiles. Finally.

And we can try to smile at the small moments, too.

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