Title: The Invisible War
Director(s): Kirby Dick
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
We’ve all seen the advertisements of the US Army, where they try to recruit young, patriotic people into service, with the promise of fighting for their country and protecting the nation and their loved ones from harm. It’s a valiant profession, and one that should never go unnoticed. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, though, that does goes unnoticed, and Kirby Dick, known best for exposing the MPAA in This Film is Not Yet Rated, has explored this unseen part of the military and crafted a harrowing view of one of the most important jobs in our society today. The Invisible War paints a picture with statistics and personal experiences, that shines an unflattering light upon the US Army and how it handles rape and sexual assault within its own jurisdiction.
Going into the US military, many of the women that are interviewed and recount their experiences, went in with idealized notions. This movie is not just about uncovering a dark truth about the US forces, but it is also about showing the world that we live in and how many people’s dreams are crushed by others’ selfish and violent behavior. Treated mainly to the view of Kori Cioca, an ex-US Coast Guard, we are shown a woman with that very idealized notion of this patriotic profession be destroyed both physically and emotionally. Through her horrific experience alone, one could easily be swayed from ever considering going into the military, but as a filmmaker, Kirby Dick knows there are several sides to a story and shows multiple women, and even some men who went in with the notion they’d be fighting for their country and instead are forced into hiding from themselves. It’s troubling even just to imagine, but watching these women recount their past is disturbing and extremely heart-breaking.
No punches are pulled in going for an emotional response, as intertitles are used throughout to display statistics that are subsequently delved into a lot deeper. The fact that there are statistics that show that rape triples in units which tolerate sexual assault is even more infuriating when you understand that there has to have been a unit of soldiers where sexual assault was tolerated. The facts aren’t presented in any fancy manner, and the documentary itself isn’t kinetic or anything, it leaves you with the same cold feeling that is left throughout. It’s not a film that feels the need to bombard its audience with style to keep it awake, but rather shows facts in an austere fashion. There are interviews, intertitles, occasional newsreels, and a clip whenever we are watching Kori attempt to get retribution for what has happened to her.
The legal matters here are shown in just as poor a light as the insides of how the justice system operates in the military are fleshed out. Abuse within the military is hardly ever reported due to the pressures to appear strong, just as those ads for the Army present. Even if an abuse is reported by a woman, they will probably have a man look into it because women are “too sympathetic” towards each other. So although the report is filed, it may never actually be looked into because the man might have connections to the accused, as a lot of units drink and party together. It’s a lose-lose situation because if a report isn’t filed, the sexual abuser might very well take that as a sign that it will be okay to do it again. The corruption within the military itself and how easy it is for them to cover up grave matters like this is explored in depth by the filmmaker, including through reported sex scandals that actually made it into the mainstream news and beyond just one person reporting it. But just because something is reported on by the news, doesn’t mean it will end poorly for the accused, as The Invisible War is not afraid to point out.
Really, the reason this film works is it juggles both showing solid evidence to prove its case, as well as follows a real-life victim as she tries to handle what she has gone through, and what still needs to be done to get justice. As a viewer, we are brought into her life and it’s difficult not to get emotionally attached to this mother and wife as she struggles with her own problems and how that affects everything she does. The Invisible War is a crushing look into the world of the military, a service generally seen as honorable and courageous, and just as Kori and the other victims’ idealized notions were destroyed, so are the viewers’ in this tragic slice of life. Kirby Dick once again shows why film can be both a medium to inform, as well as entertain, and why it’s sometimes necessary not to juggle both. The movie manages to pluck at heartstrings, infuriate, and also inform, and you will be hard-pressed to find a documentary that manages to do all three with as much finesse as is presented here.