Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Oscar Contender: The Invisible War

The Invisible War
Directed by Kirby Dick
Released June 22, 2012 / DVD October 23, 2012

War is perhaps the most frequent subject of nonfiction films today. Among the fifteen finalists for the Best Documentary Oscar is “The Invisible War,” a brutal exploration of the mishandling of sexual assault reports in the military. Kirby Dick, who most recently made “Outrage” and “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” sits down individually with a group of women (and one man), all of whom have seen their rapists go unpunished and their attempts to earn justice – and medical coverage – for their assaults ignored and often turned around to punish them in this extremely effective and heart-wrenching film.

“The Invisible War” begins with the triumphant, exciting announcement of the inclusion of women in the military. That positive start leads directly into the harrowing revelation that there are countless women, and men as well, who have found themselves taken advantage of in horrible ways, and then failed to see justice served. The many interviews first showcase the stories of how each person came to the military and then how their experience gradually worsened to an unbearable point. Probing deep into each survivor’s personal life, both before and after their assault, helps to construct a horrifying picture of just how frequently this occurs. Devastating statistics are offered and dissected to further demonstrate that most cases are not reported, which means that this sampling of survivors is just that: a very small fraction that actually came forward with their stories.

The clear and deliberate aim of “The Invisible War” is to expose the institutional problems that lead to rape being an acceptable practice not deterred by military punishment. The ineffectiveness of the organization is best shown by explaining its current practices, highlighted by education to help prevent potential victims from putting themselves in situations that might result in harm. Dick presents a searing indictment of the military’s inability to acknowledge its own failure by interviewing those involved in policy-making who believe their efforts have in fact been successful.

Becoming familiar with the survivors involved in a suit against the Department of Defense establishes intimacy and empathy, and it’s most compelling to hear the spouses of several victims explain how the trauma experienced by their loved ones has affected their lives irreparably. The statement of where each survivor’s attacker is currently stationed (none have received punishment) in the end credits drives home the unimaginable reality of what is going on, and a call to action at its close is certainly stirring. This is not a film decrying military service or the military itself, but merely a brutal and extremely important exposé about practices that simply cannot continue to be permitted.


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