Media - TV - Band of Brothers (2001)
Band of Brothers is one of the quintessential media pieces about the experience of World War II that has been created. Using interviews with the real life inspirations for the re-enacted counterparts, Band of Brothers tells the story of Easy Company through the eyes of a different soldier each episode. The seventh episode of the series, Breaking Point, is set through the eyes of First Sergeant Carwood Lipton (known colloquially as "Lip") just after the infamously stressful Battle of the Bulge when, just days later, they continued their progress to the Belgian city of Foy.
If you were to ask which episode of Band of Brothers is about trauma and PTSD, you would be pointed to this episode. What is interesting about Breaking Point is that it is both all about PTSD, but also not about it at all. While a few oblique references to certain soldiers, such as Buck, are made in terms of them no longer being themselves, and references to some soldiers refusing to stay away from the battle field after being regulated to the medical facilities where it was safer, no formal mention of Shell Shock, anachronistic PTSD or even war neurosis is mentioned at all. And yet, it is everywhere.
One of the first sequences that becomes about trauma is presented in reverse. The narrator for the episode, Lip, describes witnessing the first barrage as fragmentary images of fireworks and poppers on the fourth of July. He is equating sounds, sights and smells to his experiences at home, and over a montage of trees exploding and flying dirt and debris he describes how he was laughing at it all.
Our next trauma response occurs when Joe Toye loses his right leg in the shelling and we see him descend into a state of shock (one that I might add hit a bit too close to home for me). We see him, unable to pick himself up off the ground, trying to move towards a foxhole. It takes him several seconds to try calling for help before he starts lumbering his way along on one leg. When his friend, Bill Guarnere, comes to help drag him to a hole, we see Toye become preoccupied trying to get his helmet. Another shell explodes and this time it is Lt. Buck Compton, who has already been identified as having trauma relating to his experience getting shot in Holland who is left in shock as now Guarnere, along with Toye, loses a leg. We see a different version of shock coming from Guarnere. As he is picked up on a gurney and carted away to the medic tent, he is making jokes and shaking. Attention now shifts back to Lt. Compton, who has had to sit down on a log. As soon as the shell that hit Guarnere and Toye exploded, Lt. Compton lost control of his verbal functioning and it took him several tries to get out the word "Medic." The next times we see Compton his head is far away and his eyes are gazing into a void. Unable to cope, he is sent back from the line and the next times we see him he sits in a fetal position, unable to bear the trivialities of the letter from home he has been sent.
This late in the show, characters start getting killed off in droves, and those who survive are significantly worse off for it. George Luz, hailed as the luckiest bastard in the whole company (having never been injured) is often seen staring off into space, dissociating between moments of pale attempts at his usual humor. The night after Compton is taken off the line, another shelling attack visualizes the trauma Luz remembers of his friends Corporal Penkala and Seargent Skip Muck being killed in front of him. In slow motion, Luz crawls towards a fox hole where Penkala and Muck beckon him. "You have to get in a fox hole" they say, over and over. Shots of explosions on all sides, including intense formal images of flashing lights and darkness break up the shots of Penkala and Muck, and time has clearly slowed, even if the actual clips run closer to real time. An explosion inside the fox hole Luz is headed towards, instantly killing his friends, jolts Luz out of his haze and he rapidly pulls himself into the foxhole shared by the narrator Lip. Lip himself is not fairing well either at this point, and as a dud shell lands in the whole they share he takes Luz's cigarette straight from his mouth. For the remainder of the show they show Lip has now gained a smoking habit in order to self medicate his stress.
While not done through a main character, the show even takes a second to address the looping automatism that trauma can cause, as Lip is forced to stop an unnamed soldier from trying to dig himself a new fox hole, in the frozen ground, with his bare hands until he has torn his fingernails off.
The show uses trauma to even create sympathy for the unlikable Lt. Dike. It also shows the audience how untreated PTSD can become a major problem in offensives such as the battle for Foy. Dike, who has been vastly absent from the soldiers under his command, defies commanding officer Winter's orders to push forward quickly when a shell that lands near him causes him to go in a state of shock. He is dragged to cover by Luz and others and is swarmed by his subordinates asking him for commands.
This scene is possibly one of the most interesting depictions of PTSD in the episode. Each shot is composed in 1st person from Dike's perspective. A series of jump shots and disorienting fish eye, along side slightly muffled audio create a sense of panic and confusion where the simple questions from Luz, Lip and others layer over each other to disorient the audience. each shot is fragment - a snippet of the overall mood. It is clear that Dike is shutting down. Order isn't returned to the scene until Lt. Speirs is sent in to take over command.
In the end, this episode was not a one off piece about one soldiers trauma but how each individual may respond differently to that trauma. Some injured return to the battle field when they should not so they will not have to endure the shame that comes after pain. Some break down and go numb. Others hide their numbness through jokes or quips. Some repeat actions that could save them, even after the danger has passed.
The final quote from the real life Captain Richard Winters sums up this episode, and the real world sense that only others who experienced the same trauma can understand what the experience was like:
"I'm not sure that anybody who lived through that one hasn't carried with him, in some ways, the scars. Perhaps that is the factor that helps keep Easy men bonded so unusually close together"