"Pain is weakness leaving the body."
The new documentaryJerabek introduces us to a griefstruck Wisconsin family who've barely had time to compute the death of their 18-year old son Ryan on the battlefield in Iraq before another son, Nick, announces his intention to go fight. The loss of Ryan Jerabek is the main tragedy the film explores, through compelling interviews with friends, family and platoon-mates who remember him as a brave and natural leader. Another tragedy depicted, however, one which would never be apparent to the Jerabeks, is that their method of coping with Ryan's death -- turning their home into a depressing warehouse of Marine Corp. chachkes and losing themselves in a subculture of military boosterism -- is precisely what propels Nick into harm's way. A gaming addict with a limited imagination, Nick is never able to provide himself or anyone with a compelling reason why he would want to volunteer, but nevertheless the film eventually reaches a sad, quiet sort of climax as we see Nick walking into an absolutely deserted Marine recruiting station. A few minutes of talk and a cheesy indoctrination video seals the deal.
The interviews with Ryan's fellow Marines are vivid and tough, and as you might expect, they sometimes veer into the political, although most of their complaints about the Iraq war fall under the category of 'they didn't give us enough armor' and other such logistical criticisms, as opposed to conscientious objection. One of the Marines in particular shows an amazing capacity for naivete when he tells the interviewer, with the demeanor of a man betrayed, that he and his fellow Marines showed up with "soccer balls and candies" to give to the Iraqis, "and then they turned on us." It's through these Marines that the story of Ryan Jerabek's death is told -- an ambush by a cadre of well-armed insurgents that the surviving Marines believe could have been prevented, if they weren't ordered by their superiors to travel the same exact routes every day, broadcasting to any interested party where the platoon would be at any given time. In general, there's an undercurrent of bitterness from the Marines interviewed; a sense that Jerabek's death, while heroic, was somewhat meaningless.