The Messenger (2009) or Fighting, Dying, Notifying

Some people say that The Messenger should have won the Academy Award instead of  The Hurt Locker. It is very possible that they are right.

As long as there are wars there will be fighting. As long as there is fighting there will be dying. And as long as people die in combat someone will have to notify the families. This difficult duty is the job of the Casualty Notification Officer. The Messenger explores this difficult task. To notify people is difficult for many reasons. Some are devastated and the their grief is unbearably raw. Others can´t even accept it. Some turn against the messenger, some are openly aggressive. Some are kind and caring.

Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) comes back from a tour in Iraq badly injured. He is said to be a hero even though he can’t accept this. He gets appointed to assist Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) who has done the job as Casualty Notification Officer for a very long time. He tells Will to strictly follow procedures. Don´t touch the relatives. Inform them directly. Be clear and precise and leave again.

The first job they get is already a harrowing one and Will realises that it might be even more difficult than he thought it would be. After their job is done, they go for a drink. Tony is a AA, so all he drinks is hot water with lemon. He asks Will very direct questions about everything. At first Will is reluctant to answer but he has no choice.

One day the two have to inform a young woman of the death of her husband. Will is very touched by her and her reaction and contacts her again later and they start to form a bond.

There are many different stories and storylines that are interwoven which is the strength of this movie. In it´s essence I would say, yes, this is a movie about war, but it is even more a movie about relationships. Deep relationships. Each and every single person in this movie carries a deep wound, either physical or psychological. Injuries, heartbreak, loss, betrayal. They have endured a lot and try to cope and heal by opening up to each other.

Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson are remarkable. Remarkable is actually and understatement.

I think The Messenger achieves a very rare thing. It gives us real people. Courageous and open people. And it says a lot of profound things about war and its consequences. Ultimately when there is a war, there will be death and dying. No one should forget this.

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3 thoughts on “The Messenger (2009) or Fighting, Dying, Notifying

  1. WarMovieBlog says:

    I saw this picture some time ago and still have a draft review of this waiting to be finished(!) because I’ve been lookig for the right words… and I think you nailed it. Two things I took away from it.
    1) That these guys were no different than the guys on the front line in that they have a crappy job, someone’s got to do it, and it might as well be them. I didn’t really pick up on this until one of the last scenes with them in the apartment.
    and 2) The relationship with the widow just felt like such a train wreck. You want to sit there screaming, “What are you doing?!” at each part of it, while at the same time you can’t look away because you know something important is going on.

    A good, highly emotional, and very underrated movie to be sure.

    • I am going to look for your review, will be curious to read it. I wanted to mention something but then forgot, namely that it is quite a new job. Remember the scenes in We Were Soldiers? All those those telegrams delivered by taxi? That is such a cowardly way of doing this. Maybe you could mention it. I don´t envy those guys.

  2. […] That the theme of collateral damage can be done in a very convincing way has been shown by the crew of  The Messenger. […]

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