Ari Folman has made a beautiful and devastating movie about trauma, dissociation, and war. As a young Israeli soldier, he was in the 1982 Lebanon war. When a friend came to him with troubling memories of that war, Folman realized that he had no memories about being in Lebanon. A therapist friend told him to ask fellow veterans about what happened and Folman interviewed people until his own memories came back. The movie is animated. It flips between "talking head" interviews with middle-aged men at home, and their younger selves in Lebanon. The animation is amazing; the music, perfect; the characterization of the various soldiers/veterans makes them totally human.

You see the trauma and the men's attempts to cope with it. One man,was considered a genius as a teen. As an adult  he hides on his Dutch farm, constantly stoned.  Some seem untouched. Others still devastated.

As the movie unwinds, you see the event begin to come together–The assassination of Bashir, the Lebanese Christian Falangist leader, led his followers to slaughter men, women, and children in a Palestinian refugee camp. The Israelis, their allies, were supporting the Falangists to "find the terrorists". By the time the Israelis understood what was going on, and the word finally got to the Israeli leadership (slowed down by idiocy and disbelief), it was too late. The last few minutes of the movie are film footage of bodies and wailing women in the camps. There is no other resolution. Nothing to make us feel good.

The movie brilliantly portrays what trauma looks like. Its director also directed the original Israeli In Treatment , which portrays among other things, the therapy of a soldier who inadvertantly bombed an orphanage. I wonder if he was compelled to do In Treatment, before he remembered what he forgot about his own war experience. Here's a link to some "stills" from the movie, and an interview with Folman. My favorite lines in the interview are, "Having made WALTZ WITH BASHIR from the point of view of a common soldier, I’ve come to one conclusion: war is so useless that it‘s unbelievable. It’s nothing like you’ve seen in American movies. No glam, no glory. Just very young men going nowhere, shooting at no one they know, getting shot by no one they know, then going home and trying to forget. Sometimes they can. Most of the time they cannot."

Evidently the movie brings two distinct responses from some Israelis: "Folman should be shot as a traitor for bringing up the incident."  Or "It's good, he's finally showing the world that it wasn't our fault." My response and the response of the two Israelis with whom I watched the film, was devastation and hopelessness. In the light of our despair over the recent attack on Gaza, we were stunned. We had to walk in the cold wind, swing on swings, and watch children play in order to bring ourselves back to here and now in our safe Seattle neighborhood. Today, I'm back to thinking that the little we do as trauma therapists makes a differences. As Hillel said, "If you save one person, you save the world." I need to keep this always in mind, or I get paralyzed by the trauma we humans create.