Though it's been nearly 40 years since the initial release of The War at Home in 1979, this close look at the domestic protest efforts waged during the Vietnam War rings as relevant as ever. In fact, other than the dated outfits, black-and-white film or aged filters, the scenes could very well have been ripped from today's goings-on, though at the time it seemed simple enough for the authorities to describe concerned parties as "un-American" in feeble attempts to discredit them.
It was obviously a wildly changing time for America amid the Civil Rights movement, with young men burning their draft cards and a rising tide of organized protest. Through clips, news reports, interviews and on-the-ground footage, we get an intimate idea of the many angles used by Americans who were dissatisfied with the atrocities in Vietnam. Whether it's retellings of sit-ins organized to thwart recruiters for Dow Chemical (the company famously behind weapons such as napalm), difficult imagery of wounded Vietnamese children or even just peaceful congregations, the film is intense and often disturbing. But it is also riveting and important; we know these kinds of things happened before and make the political landscape of today all the more terrifying.
With no narrator, The War at Home might most aptly be likened to a film like 1982's Atomic Café. Here, the uncensored imagery does the talking, and through this we wind up taking a long, hard look at our contemporary selves. Or at least, we should. Ultimately, we have to ask where patriotism ends and rabid, misguided nationalism begins.
Can we use this documentary as a warning sign, or do we dismiss its message as dated? Either way, this is vital viewing—both for those who lived through the era and need a refresher and for American youths who may want to know their fight might not be anything new, but is nonetheless still essential to a healthy democracy. (Alex De Vore)
The War at Home
Jean Cocteau, NR, 100 min.
+ Important; timely as Ever
- A bit rapid-fire