Hell and Back Again: A Film About A Recovering Veteran

By: Kristin Wnukowski

Cast: Nathan Harris, Ashley Harris, Christian Cabaniss, and Eric Meador

Director: Danfung Dennis

Synopsis: In his war documentary, Director Danfung Dennis uses a regular DSLR photography camera to film Nathan Harris in Afghanistan.  Soon Nathan’s life is almost ended but the camera keeps rolling.  Now back in the U.S, Nathan must fight for his life and adapt to civilian ways.

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Nathan Harris in Action (Hell and Back Again, 2011)

Review:

At the age of 18 Nathan Harris chose to join the army and his life is changed forever.  Yes he becomes a different man learning the methods of being a soldier, but when he almost dies and is sent home, his wife Ashley, must now be the stronger one fighting for them both.

Director, Danfung Dennis brings an action-packed and vivid war documentary film into the homes of everyday people.  Dennis risked his own life to follow Harris’ actions in combat to tell the story of how he fought for his country and in return almost died and had to deal with the after effects back home.  The film shifts from striking war coverage, to Nathan’s personal struggles at home in North Carolina with his wife.  All throughout, the film shows endless amounts of Afghanistan scenes that coincide to Nathan’s life at home.  You explore Nathan as a soldier and see his endless trips to the hospital, carrying a huge bag of pills and receiving disappointing news one after another.

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Marines Carrying and Injured Soldier (Hell and Back Again, 2011)

We can find ourselves hauling through Afghanistan, trudging from one hiding place to the next and experiencing life-threatening battles.  Dennis acts as another soldier and not a cameraman because he is always right in the group of soldiers, showing us every angle and view on the battlefield.  We hear every sentence in the plans the soldiers make to fight for their country.  For example, not only can you see a bomb the soldiers send across the battlefield, but the reactions and emotions that follow.  As the film progresses, the war scenes become more intense showing more shooting, bullets everywhere, and smoke covering the view of every soldier.

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Life On The Battlefield (Hell and Back Again, 2011)

Dennis sustains extremely long takes with few cuts, which shows one point of view and allows you to fully experience life in combat.  In doing this, the audience forgets that they are watching a film and feel as if they are there dropping bullet after bullet from a gun to protect their country.  The camera shows extreme close ups of each soldier’s face, guiding you into their thoughts.  Their sweat, pain and determination fill each frame.  Gliding smoothly through every movement of Harris, the camera is never turned off to hide any disturbing moments.

Nathan Harris states, “I would rather be in Afghanistan where it’s simple.  And then when you come home it’s almost more difficult than doing that stuff than be here dealing with all this shit” when him and his wife can’t do something as simple as find a parking space when going shopping.  You definitely get a sense of Nathan’s PTSD from his service in Afghanistan.  Since the film shows an actuality of a war, you can get a sense of why Nathan is the way he is from PTSD.  The film shows Ashley helping Nathan through his PTSD by, bringing him to his appointments, driving him everywhere, helping him get dressed, making sure he does his exercises and waiting on him hand and foot.  It is now her job to do all the fighting.

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Nathan at Home Doing His Exercises (Hell and Back Again, 2011)

From watching this hour and twenty minute documentary, you can experience Nathan’s commitment in Afghanistan and see him (as he puts it) “dealing with all this shit.”

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Ashley Helping Nathan Through His Journey Back Home (Hell and Back Again, 2011)

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