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Lonesome Soldier

Military Movies, 2023

Director/Writer:

Nino Aldi / Alexander Randazzo, Lionel Chetwynd, and Linda Lee

Reading Time:

7 minutes

Lonesome SoldierRevolve (BBKXZ5A8I1B3NWE3)
00:00 / 09:53

📷 : Used with permission, Malachi Pictures

Lonesome Soldier

Coca:

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Movies and TV shows about drugs or with disorienting presentations

Dandelion:

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Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects

Reba Chaisson

2024-06-14

I think we can all agree that patriotism is important and honorable. I’m not talking about material symbols of patriotism, like some phony ball cap with words suggesting that wearing it is patriotic. I am talking about deeds, commitment, and sacrifice of self, much like that inherent in military service. Enlisting in the military requires complete surrender of yourself and relinquishing of your own ideas about who you are. Those who join the service place themselves under the control of an institution that strips them of their identities, molds their minds into a different way of thinking, and shapes their bodies into something they won’t recognize by the time their service is over. Knowing this, some of us submit to it anyway. All of us know someone who did. Few of us, however, witness the struggles of someone who came back broken by what they saw, what they did, and who they had become. That is until Nino Aldi’s film, Lonesome Soldier, introduced us to Jackson Harlow.


Lonesome Soldier centers Jackson, a 20-something musician played by Alexander Randazzo (The Lost Bus, Bad Impulse). Jackson lives in a close-knit rural Tennessee town, where he grew up showered with the love of his overprotective mother and nourished with the wisdom of his supportive but curmudgeonly grandfather, Mack, played by John Ashton (Gone Baby Gone, Beverly Hills Cop). The mild-mannered Jackson has incorrigible friends with whom he hangs out at the local bar, where his band regularly performs in front of hometown patrons. Not making enough money as a musician nor mechanic, Jackson enlists in the National Guard Reserve soon after marrying his long-time sweetheart Christy, played by Leah Grosjean (Bird of Paradise, The Recipe). He expects to be away from her one weekend per month, until he is called to serve in Iraq where his orders for three months turn into an additional six, and then more.


Based on a true story, Lonesome Soldier feels authentic on several dimensions. The age–, gender–, and racially–diverse cast helps us see ourselves as part of a larger, broader family. Although the film’s setting is a small rural community, the relationships between the characters feel like those many of us had while growing up even in corners of large urban areas. At 20-something, many of us are still connected with our closest childhood friends and enjoy getting together at a local spot. Also as young adults, we quite frequently gather with family for dinner at “Mom’s house,” sometimes bickering with folks at the table. And occasionally, we find ourselves in spontaneous but poignant talks with older adults, who impart bits of wisdom that stick. I like this film in part because it feels like the lives many of us lived when we were young. These elements make Lonesome Soldier feel like a story about us, even though its focus is on the one of us who makes a consequential choice to enlist. The one of us who leaves as an unassuming and kind young man who loves his wife and treasures his baby girl. And the one of us who returns home as something quite different.


Early in his Basic Military Training, Jackson meets Ritchie (Dion Earl, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping), a fellow enlistee from a nearby town with whom he becomes close friends. When Ritchie’s sergeant catches him smoking, he orders him to dig a hole to bury the cigarette. “DIG DEEP!” yells his sergeant. He then demands that Ritchie offer a eulogy for the buried cigarette.


This moment certainly conveys the ingenuity of those who train others. It reminds me of the 1984 movie, Karate Kid, where Mr. Miyagi requires his teenage student, Daniel, to paint fences, wash cars, and sweep floors. Later, to Daniel’s surprise, he learns there was a purpose to these seemingly pointless household chores. Similarly, Ritchie’s sergeant takes a seemingly small infraction of the rules and makes it into an exercise to toughen him. Digging the hole and eulogizing the cigarette butt are not only meant to dissuade Ritchie from smoking again. They are meant to force him to bury any “soft” feelings he might have for anything in his life. They are meant to transform him, prepare him to do what is unimaginable, and feel in a way very different than he felt before.


We are all changed in some way by our experiences. But change is not strong enough of a term to convey the transformation that occurs as a result of experiencing war, where non-combatants such as babies and children are slain, and soldiers are left with the imagery of their mangled bodies and are often covered in their blood. Just as horrendous is soldiers seeing their brothers– and sisters-in-arms shot right in front of them, and they are helpless to do anything substantial to save their lives. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs’s National Center for PTSD, these experiences along with being shot at and ambushed “increase [soldiers’] chances of having PTSD or other mental health problems.” Compounding this, it says, are the long absences from home. To mollify these effects, some veterans self-medicate to suppress the nightmares, hallucinations, anxiety, and depression; others tragically commit acts much more damaging. 


Upon returning home, Jackson is often thanked by friends and family for his service and referred to as a hero, sincerely and teasingly. Reconciling such references though with his experiences and how he now feels about himself proves difficult and leads him to display the prototypical symptoms of PTSD. Thus, his family’s and friends’ comments seemingly exacerbate the frustration, confusion, and helplessness he already feels. Indeed, Jackson expresses, “I don’t really give a f*** about myself.” 


Jackson’s grandfather, Mack, a veteran himself, advises him to “just suppress the guilt.” Such advice hints at the belief that these feelings can be stopped like brakes function on a bike. But just as stopping a bike in heavy rain can result in serious injuries from the skid, suppressing guilt as Jackson does risks throwing his life even further out of balance. Something different is needed. At his lowest point, Jackson is reminded that his “Fight’s not over; it’s just different,” which suggests that Jackson has to be re-transformed. He has to “dig deep” to fight his way back to himself.


Unlike most movies I have seen about war and soldiers returning home, Lonesome Soldier exposes the impact on families when soldiers are absent from home for extended periods of time. Partners can become overwhelmed with stress, which is exacerbated when caring for children or sick family members. Children’s health and safety can be put at risk due to the constant worry and simply missing their enlisted parents. We enjoy seeing news clips of children jumping into the arms of a parent returning home after a long deployment. But what we don’t see is what happens to families between the soldier’s departure and return. This film elucidates an aspect of military deployment that is rarely addressed in the media, particularly as it regards the partners of soldiers and the types of support they want or need. 


I remember watching the 2014 biopic, American Sniper, about Navy Seal Chris Snyder. Upon returning home from the Middle East, Chris, played by Bradley Cooper, was repeatedly thanked for his service. It was awkward for him, off-putting even. The film depicted him as angry about it because it seemed disingenuous. After all, what does that mean “Thank you for your service” or “You’re an American hero?” These sentiments flew in the face of what he felt about himself given his experiences in the service. While the expressions are meant to acknowledge those who performed extraordinary acts, “hero,” “heroism” and comments relating to them are so overused that their power has flattened into platitudes and led to cynicism.


Perhaps we should now consider something both timeless and meaningful. The next time we see a veteran or a soldier in uniform, maybe we can consider adding something to make our acknowledgments impactful. Ask “What can I do for you?” “What do you need?”  or “How can I help you?” But let’s do this only if the intent is truly to be of service to them. This way we are digging deep to uncover the hero within ourselves.



To check on the availability of Lonesome Soldier, please inquire on the movie’s website at watch.lonesoldierthefilm.com.

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