Directed by Sergio Valenzuela
The uncomfortable and undercovered topic of post traumatic stress disorders is tackled head on in Iron Will—an interview style documentary that rotates between the accounts of several combat veterans and their day-to-day struggles with the after effects of wartime.
The subjects are varied and diverse, but what they have in common is a strong resistance to help and a denial that they cannot ease their struggle alone—a mindset ironically ingrained during military training and action. Also cast in a clear light is the near-total lack of re-integration training or support that returning combat veterans receive once back home.
Also given specific focus is the troubling statistic that 20 veterans succumb to PTSD by suicide on a daily basis. A staggering figure of over 7,000 victims every year. That figure hits home even harder during the film as it is revealed the four additional interview candidates for Iron Will took their lives before they had a chance to share their stories.
Few specifics of wartime experiences are revealed and a point is made of portraying the difficulty in which many veterans have discussing their traumatic experiences and challenges—especially with non-soldiers with no capacity to truly understand or empathize. This is one of the film’s strongest points, as director Sergio Valenzuela is a victim of PTSD itself. His presence behind the camera provides a relative comfort zone for the interviewees to open up more than they would with a non-veteran in the director’s chair—at one point we even see Valenzuela emerge from behind the camera to embrace and console one of his subjects mid-interview (he is also a subject in the film, himself).
Interestingly, the film reveals that the term PTSD itself, is a subject of debate, as several soldiers and medical professionals are making a case to remove the inclusion of the word “disorder” in the diagnosis to make clear the fact that the effects of post traumatic stress are a very normal and human reaction, and not one that should carry the additional stigma of suggesting that there is something “wrong” with the victims, their struggles or their behaviors.
The documentary is, ultimately, somewhat overlong and utilizes frequent low-grade animations and dramatic re-enactments that soften the impact of the conversations being heard. Focusing solely on the words and faces of the veterans themselves and trimming some of the redundancies might have made it a documentary for a wider audience. Those conversations are where the power of the film resides and based on them alone Iron Will succeeds in delivering its message of awareness, and a very worthy one it is indeed.
Artistic Value – 4 / 10
Social Value – 10 / 10
Entertainment Value – 5 / 10