Embedded with the US Marines' Echo Company in Afghanistan, photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis reveals the devastating impact a Taliban machine-gun bullet has on the life of 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris.
The film seamlessly transitions from stunning war footage to intimate, visceral portrait of a man's personal struggle back at home in North Carolina. There Sgt. Harris confronts the physical and emotional difficulties of readjusting to civilian life with the support of his wife, Ashley.
Masterfully contrasting the PTSD-inducing intensity of the frontline with the unsettling normality of home, "Hell and Back Again" lays bare the true costs of war and American imperialism invading other countries for oil (in the case of Afghanistan securing an oil pipeline that was already planned before our military invaded and occupied with no plan to actually ever leave).
Nathan, dealing with the painful consequences of war, finds that coming home is not much consolation. The Marine platoon he was with, killing civilians and others in Afghanistan in 2009, saw violence and random street skirmishes.
He is shot in the hip shortly before he was due to return home. Recuperating from a badly injured leg, he soon finds himself at home being looked after and struggling with boredom and feelings of powerlessness after months on edge.
As his marriage begins to buckle and he becomes increasingly addicted to pain medications, Nathan falls victim to severe mood swings and openly states that he wishes he were back in Afghanistan. There, killing others for empire and being shot at, at least he was in control of his circumstances and not dependent on others.
Director Danfung Dennis offers a telling portrait of the vivid horrors of the battlefield and the subtle but excruciating horrors of the home front. "Hell and Back Again" was an official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.