Doc of the Day: The Way We Get By Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: The Way We Get By

Posted in Days of Docs, Reviews by - May 28, 2012

In observance of Memorial Day, meet people who make it their mission to make veterans feel appreciated.

Dir. Aron Gaudet, 2009, 84 min

Memorial Day means we take time to reflect on the people who have died for our country. I have… mixed feelings about the military today, and what sort of respect is afforded service people, and proper way to demonstrate that respect. I resent the expectation from certain sectors that I automatically defer to a soldier, as well as the idea that joining the military instantly makes you a hero (which I’ve discussed before). But that’s not the implicit message of this holiday (although some people treat it that way). I’m not one for sappy Tweets or Facebook Posts, so here’s how I demonstrate my appreciation for the troops: with a review of a documentary about people expressing their appreciation for the troops.

For many military members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, Bangor International Airport is the last place they set foot in within the United States when the leave, and the first place they come to when they return. Every time a plane comes in bearing returning soldiers, there is a small volunteer group of senior citizens waiting at the airport to meet them. They are there just to provide some kind words and handshakes, and sometimes lend a cell phone. It’s a small act, but it reassures these men and women that there are people who unconditionally support them. And that validation is something a lot of them need badly.

The Way We Get By focuses on three of these greeters. Their reasons for doing this work and the lives they have outside it all diverge drastically, but they are united in this one effort. Bill Knight is a veteran himself, and he doesn’t want to see soldiers’ sacrifices go unacknowledged the way he believes they did during Vietnam. He is awesomely consistent in his greeting, even as his private life falls apart. Joan Gaudet uses the greeting as a mode of therapy; it gave her motivation to leave the house after surgery left her hobbled. Jerry Mundy is still haunted by his young son’s death by sickness, and wants nothing more than to bring a smile to every service member’s face. This is patriotism at what I think is its most ideal, inspiring people to support one another in spite of their personal problems.

I might get into a nasty political argument with any one of these people were I ever to meet them in real life. They unquestionably support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with only occasional moments of clarity. But through a film I can learn to empathize with them. This work is a relief from their daily troubles, and some of them even seem addicted to it. They wonder what they’ll do when the Wars are over, a nice bit of parallelism between them and the soldiers. The film is scattered with quietly affecting moments of new veterans taking in their first moments of true peace in a while. This is a movie about moving on with life, and it shows that wartime experiences aren’t the only struggles one has to endure and heal from.

There are no overt directorial flourishes in this movie. It is a straightforward piece about straightforward people doing a straightforward thing. That’s all the stylization that it needs, and it never overplays itself, even when the subject matter may beg for it. This movie could have been barely more than a compilation of YouTube-quality “soldiers reuniting with families” bit of cheap emotion. Instead, it’s a resonant meditation on loss and recovery.

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Dan Schindel loves movies more than you do.

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