“Hell and Back Again” Danfung Dennis’ hypnotic, compelling documentary follows the return of a badly injured Marine from Afghanistan, inter-cutting footage from the battlefield with scenes from 25-year old Sgt Nathaniel Harris’ life back in North Carolina.
On the battlefield, Sgt Harris and his fellow troops meet with village elders trapped between U.S. forces and the Taliban, their goats have been killed and their wheat ruined, and their children are ill after forced relocations to the riverbed. The battles are random bullet blasts and returned fire, until the unit is pinned in a hut, and a bomb strike is called in. At home he must cope with healing.
Hell and Back Again blends battle scenes with home life scenes seamlessly, they emerge as Nathaniel’s flashbacks and memories as he visits the Walmart/Chuckie Cheese mall with his wife, sees the doctor to deal with his pain management issues, or goes through physical therapy. His wife Ashley is supportive, but nervous, especially when Nathaniel expresses deep love for his pistol, which he keeps loaded and ready, stuffed between the mattress and box springs, and it’s clear Nathaniel’s injuries are more than just physical.
This intimate portrait of a soldier removes the political rhetoric from the war and gives us stark reality –harsh, tender and frightening.