[Review] – The Invisible War

3 Jul

Title: The Invisible War
Year: 2012
Director: Kirby Dick
Writer: Kirby Dick
Starring: Helen Bendict, Anu Bhagwati, Susan Burke, Kori Cioca
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 97 min
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Metacritic: 76

Kirby Dick is one of those documentarians that really knows how to tackle subjects that some many deem taboo, and he does that with a passion that is very much felt through his films. It’s felt so much partly because Mr. Dick is one of those filmmakers that participates in the film, either being shown interviewing someone or doing something; in fact, without him many of the documentaries that use this same participatory mode wouldn’t exist.

Some of the topics he’s tackled include confronting the Catholic Church in the story of a man that was abused by a priest as a teenager in Twist of Faith, which got him an Oscar nomination in 2004; or the life of Bob Flanagan, the writer and performance artist who dabbled in BDSM in SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist; or the hypocrisy of closeted politicians who support anti-gay laws in Outrage; or This Film Is Not Yet Rated, his absolutely brilliant 2006 effort about the MPAA rating system and its impact on our culture. So, yes, this man is one of the very best documentary filmmakers out there, and in his latest, The Invisible War, he creates yet another irresistible piece of work about a very sensitive topic.

The film is really amazing in how it investigates what has to be one of the most disgraceful and yet best kept secrets in America nowadays, and that’s the huge amount of rape cases that happens within the U.S. military. As you might imagine, the stories of the women this film tells us can be pretty infuriating and heartbreaking, as they offer both a really powerful emotional punch because of the gravity of the situation, with women in military being more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than be killed by enemy fire, and it really gets you mad at the situation to because of how these horrible crimes are simply covered up. It’s one of those films that really can’t be ignored.

You may be thinking that you’ve heard of this before, of rapes going on in the military. And you may be right, this is an issue that has indeed been raised by other outlets before, and you probably got mad about it back then, too. But trust me that you didn’t know it was this bad. Nearly 23,000 rapes took place in the military last year, women being victims in 90% of these, and yet only 3,000 of this occurrences were officially reported, and only 200 of the accused were actually convicted, many of those for only a year or so. An actual court of law called this epidemic an “occupational hazard”.

Statistics like that are given to us in The Invisible War a lot, and you’ll just feel your jaw dropping more and more as you process the numbers. I mean, really, if you’re a female soldier in active duty right now there’s about a 20% chance that you’ve been or you’ll be sexually assaulted. That’s one in five. No surprise that the cover ups have been so severe; how do you think those recruitment numbers would look were more people aware of this? And yet, as you might imagine if you’ve watched Mr. Dick’s work, this isn’t just a by-the-numbers sort of thing, we also get a glimpse at the physical and psychological impact that these crimes have on their victims, and that’s what you really won’t be able to shake off.

This really is an astonishing piece of investigative journalism by Mr. Dick, he got a lot of victims talking here about what happened to them, and it’s really heartbreaking to hear. Imagine if rape victims have a really hard time coming forward in civilian life how much harder it must be in the military system. This is a system that’s very tightly closed, one that’s always been a macho culture, in which complaining is seen as cowardice and in which teamwork is a big part of the mantra – you do not sell out your fellow soldier. Not to mention that the soldier these women would have to rat out is many times their superior officer; 25% of women not reporting an incident because of this very reason.

How this whole thing is structured by Mr. Dick is really great. He doesn’t go for any kind of flashy visual technique, and rather just giving us statistics and typical talking heads. And yet this is the best approach not only because of the obvious, which is the fact that these stories are super powerful and will make you take notice just by themselves, but because of the sheer fact that these heads are talking at all, that you are seeing the faces of the women telling their own stories, with their real names listed, no shadowy silhouettes, no silly aliases. It’s a fucking brave thing to do.

I won’t go into detail about the specific stories you get to hear in The Invisible War, not about what happened in the moment of the rape or, in what can be just as devastating, what happened to these women, what is happening to these women, after the fact, how they deal with the trauma and how they are ignored by the system. The military, in theory, should represent the best of America, it is, after all, the body of forces in charge of defending a nation. And yet, it is also the body of forces in which something as horrible as rape is twice as likely to happen to you than in civilian life.

Something good has already come out from this film, I’m happy to report. Previously there was absolutely no way to go above your commanding officer to report a rape, something that could be stupidly ineffective because, like I said, many times the commanding officer was the one doing the raping. Thankfully, the Secretary of the Depart of Defense, Leon Panetta, saw this film and a couple of days later changed that law. Most of these policies still don’t do much to change the situation at hand, but at least we have people like Kirby Dick, delivering a film that’s not only powerful as hell as a documentary, but that also touches upon a very important topic with utmost sensitivity, and sets out to have an effective change on it, too. Necessary viewing right here; the best documentary I’ve seen in 2012 so far.

Grade: A-


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