Brothers (2009): Post-traumatic Stress Unrealistically Embedded

I am in two minds about Brothers. In parts I liked it in parts it made me frown at the amount of implausible details. Escapism built on a serious topic.

A young Captain, Sam (Tobey Maguire), married to a lovely wife (Natalie Portman), is sent back to Afghanistan where he was stationed many times before. Just before he leaves his delinquent older brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) is released from prison. Shortly after arriving back in Afghanistan Sam´s helicopter is shot down. Two officers are sent to inform his wife, Grace, of Sam´s death.

From that moment on Tommy changes a great deal and  assists the young woman and her two little daughters wherever he can. Soon they become close friends. Tommy and Grace discover that they have quite a lot in common despite not having liked each other in the beginning.

What none of them knows, Sam is a POW. During the months of his captivity he has to endure torture and cruelties. In the end he is even forced to do something he won´t be able to forgive himself. When he is finally freed he is not the man he used to be. He is withdrawn and doesn’t talk. He seems to suffer a great deal and accuses his wife and his brother of having had an affair. The situation grows more and more acute until it escalates in the end.
I do not deny that I liked watching this movie since it is a well done production. The score is nice, Jake Gyllenhaal is convincing (but then I have been his fan ever since I watched Donnie Darko), the pictures are appealing, individual scenes are captivating. Nevertheless this is not a good movie. Many details are highly unrealistic. The way the soldiers get captured is not convincing nor is the fact that Sam is reported to be dead and not just MIA. His wife never even questions this although nothing has been found of him or his belongings. His return is also very abrupt. No questions are asked and he seems to not be getting proper treatment even though he shows signs of severe post-traumatic stress.

All these elements are quite anachronistic. Relics of another time, a time when there was hardly any psychological treatment available and the awareness of PTSD was very low. You might expect this in a Vietnam movie, but not in one dealing with a contemporary conflict.
The dynamics of a dysfunctional family are shown convincingly. The father, a  Vietnam vet with an alcohol problem, plays the two brothers off against each other. Obviously he favours the one who opted for the same career. The development of Tommy´s character is also very well done. He becomes more and more endearing towards the end of the movie.
Tobey Maguire playing a  Captain is not credible at all. I just did not buy it. He should have played a lower rank. He seems far too young to be a captain.
This movie is for Jake Gyllenhaal Fans, people, who go for dysfunctional family stories and all those who would like to see a movie where the key message is: You will be healed as soon as you can talk about the shit you have done and been through.

All those who would like to see a realistic coming-home story of a war veteran should not go for it. The aim of this movie was to be dramatic, not realistic.

Since this movie seems to be an American remake of a Danish movie I might try to see the other one. It would be interesting to see how that was handled.

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4 thoughts on “Brothers (2009): Post-traumatic Stress Unrealistically Embedded

  1. Tanya Loika says:

    I have seen clips, and yeah they definitely went for it. But I really liked the dinner scene, how out of place that guy was and everyone seemingly preferring to ignore his suffering and treat him like a child. They all seem to have no idea at all about trauma in that scene!

  2. I don’t know that people being uninformed about trauma is at all unusual, or that the VA offers such exceptional treatment across the board.

    (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the movie yet, I did see the original Danish version and thought it was excellent. Also, do you always judge a movie so closely based on its level of realism? The point is to tell a story, at the risk of playing psychoanalyst perhaps this need for hyperrealism is itself a manifestation of some PTSD? [I’ve noticed the same thing in myself–I think it somehow relates to a hypersensitivity to feeling deceived and desire for things to be predictable {and therefore under control}]).

    P.S. Have you ever seen “The War at Home” starring Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez? Would be curious to know what you think.

    • Thanks for your interesting comment.
      I have still not seen the Danish versions but could imagine it’s better. I have also not seen the movie you mention. Thanks for the suggestion.
      I always hope for psychological realism in movies. I find it more important than some historical facts. And this movie did feel anachronistic in its treatment of PTSD. I’d be curious to know how you like the US version.

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