Piecing Life Together

HBO’s new documentary provides an evenhanded and riveting picture of wounded veterans’ struggles.

Issue: Sept-Oct 2007

Alive Day Memories: Home fromIraq, 60 min., HBO, 2007.

The documentary's quasi-cryptic title finds its source in what is known as a soldier's "alive day", the day that he or she narrowly escaped death. The product isn't simply an impression of life after Iraq for ten soldiers. Rather, it delves into the psyches of these physically and emotionally scarred soldiers, and what it finds is at times horrifying. The production as a whole is spartan: It makes use only of a black background, black furniture, bright white lights and little additional media interlaced with the actual interviews. It is, in most ways, the antithesis of a Ken Burns or Michael Moore documentary. There isn't any preaching; it's just simple statements from these men and women with a few small facts about the war interlaced with the dialogue. Narrator James Gandolfini wisely chooses to listen and ask very few questions. In that way, Alive Day Memories deftly sidesteps the explosive political issues associated with the war and provides valuable insight into the healing process.

As the Iraq War drags on, the percentage of veterans returning home as amputees is at a historical high. They cheated death only to face a life of physical or mental impairment.

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