Hollywood & PTSD Among Military

19 Oct

 Third article in our 5 week series on the War Film Genre

By Littlebells

Disclaimer: The use of PTSD in this article is focused on military and POWs.  There are many other factors that can lead to PTSD.

The Summer Garden is the third and final book of Paullina Simon’s epic love story between Tatiana Metanova and Alexander Barrington.  It is in this last book that we see what the ravages of war can do to a man and his family.  The book begins with Alexander having been rescued from his POW camp in Saschenshausen and starting a new life back in his home country of America. He suffers from PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder and must find a way to keep his family together despite his past.

The Hague Convention of 1907 declared the status and treatment of Prisoners of War. However it was the Geneva Convention of 1929 and 1949 that set standards for POWs.  It stipulated that, “POWs must be afforded every right of a POW from the time they are captured until their repatriation.[1] Not all countries were willing or able to abide, but it was an effort to advance humankind and reconciliation.  As you will see, many nations violated the Geneva Convention.

World War I followed and upheld Hague Convention policies.  Unfortunately during WW II Germany and Italy did not uphold these policies towards non-western country prisoners.  Nazis regarded Soviet POWs as a “lower racial order.” There was deliberate, organized brutality. Russians played a sort of tit-for-tat with their German POWs.  The Japanese were no less barbarous, subjecting all POWs to brutal treatment, medical experiments, starvation rations, and poor medical treatment.[2]  The following table shows the total death rate of POWs.


Percentage of

POWs who died

Italian POWs held by Soviets


Russian POWs held by Germans


German POWs held by Soviets


American POWs held by Japanese


German POWs held by Eastern Europeans


British POWs held by Japanese


British POWs held by Germans


German POWs held by French


German POWs held by Americans


German POWs held by British


North and South Vietnam violated the Geneva Convention standards and to this day there are still soldiers missing and unaccounted.

Torture among prisoners was excruciating. Prisoner’s endured beatings, whippings, brandings, being shackled with cuffs too small thus squeezing the muscles to the bone and breaking skin, starvation, bacteria laded food causing diarrhea, grueling work and labor, solitary confinement, diseases, cannibalism, and sexual degradation.[3]   

 With this history, we can see how someone in the military (POW or not) would develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  PTSD has been called “stress disorder” “shell shock” and “battle fatigue.”  It can occur immediately after a horrible event or have late onset.  But how would one know if they were suffering from PTSD or another mental disorder?  There are 3 classes that someone must display: the sufferer re-experiences the traumatic event through nightmares and/or flashbacks; they display avoidance of things or people and want to be away from anything that may possibly remind them of their trauma; and they seem to constantly be irritable and can’t sleep.[4]  As more was learned about PTSD, a more thorough multi-faceted approach to treatment was created.

In the Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and Iraq War (Operation Irazi Freedom), statistics are high for those suffering from PTSD. As of 2007, there were 1.6 million enlisted soldiers.  For OEF/OIF troops, about 40% have or may have acquired PTSD. As of 2008, 67,717 were being treated, with only 27% enrolled in a VA specialized care program.[5]

Click on the title to watch trailer from the film Brothers released in 2009 starring Tobey Maguire.

Men and women returning from war and POW camps who suffered from PTSD found it extremely difficult to get back to normal life.  They self-medicated by alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, felonies and physical abuse.  Those who were married found they didn’t know their spouse anymore, the spouse couldn’t understand what they were going through.  Time didn’t stop for anyone.  Divorce started increasing.  In 1975, the divorce rate among POWs was at 27%.[6]  However, there are more attributors than just PTSD that unraveled these marriages.

There are not many Hollywood films that focus on the PTSD factor and its effect on family.  The Deer Hunter(Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken) focuses on 3 friends who fight in Vietnam and are taken prisoner.  They are able to make an escape, but the savage and inhuman experience follows them home. Taxi Driver (DeNiro) is about an unstable vet who indulges his war sufferings by acting out violently, but nonetheless trying to save a teenage prostitute. Another film dealing with PTSD is Distant Thunder (John Lithgow).  This film is of a man who deserts his wife and son upon coming home from Vietnam.  He lives in the mountains like an animal for ten years before returning.  He is unprepared for the damage he has caused. 

PTSD has long since been a subject of taboo.  But with the attacks of 9/11, it is becoming more acknowledged. Perhaps Hollywood will find a way to make more films dealing with the consequences of this disorder and how families can find ways to seek treatment and build a stronger bond, giving hope to those who suffer from this reality.

The Summer Garden has great potential as a film to show the ravages of war and prison on a person and their family, but also show how one can overcome these demons and build a new life with stronger familial bonds. 

If anyone you know suffers from PTSD and has been in the military or a POW, please contact your doctor who can refer you to the right experts for treatment.  To see a checklist of all military PTSD symptoms, please click here.

Please join us for a discussion on this topic Thursday 10/20/2011@7pE/12UTC

68 Responses to “Hollywood & PTSD Among Military”

  1. Littlebells October 19, 2011 at 10:22 AM #

    Hague Convention POW status and treatment:

    Military PTSD checklist link:

    Click to access McChord_PTSD_checklist_template.pdf

  2. littlebells October 19, 2011 at 2:06 PM #

    testing testing

  3. littlebells October 19, 2011 at 2:28 PM #

    i have links but.I am not home at the moment. 😦

  4. comic relief October 19, 2011 at 3:30 PM #


    It’s amazing the more I hear about Simons’ books the more I can’t wait for the movie(s). It’s been 20 plus years, I agree Hollywood should revisit this subject now that we know a lot more about it.

    I saw “Brothers”, and think this (by way of PTSD) is a fine way to revisit this disturbance. Why shouldn’t the psychological results describe the psychological and psychical traumas and events that provoke this suffering?

    • littlebells October 19, 2011 at 4:48 PM #

      me too, CR, as long as they stay true to the book as much as possible and keep it realistic! i just interviewed my friend whose father was a POW in Japan for four years. unbelievable and learned so much. I can’t wait to share!

  5. ozzie20 October 19, 2011 at 6:36 PM #

    Great Article LB! I won’t be at the discussion tomorrow as it’s my birthday and by then I’ll probably at the very least, tipsy! But I do look forward to catching up on Friday. The great Uncle I talked about in the last war discussion was a POW in Japan. Whatever happened there must of been bad as he refused to speak of it. So I look forward to learning more about it.

    • Littlebells October 19, 2011 at 6:56 PM #

      Happy pre-Birthday!

      Yes, it was very disturbing, and I can see why he wouldn’t want to talk about it. My friend’s dad didn’t either but his was for the fact that it was “over and he was moving on”. However at one point she did find some stuff in one of his boxes and got him to share some info. She said anyone who survived were those who never gave up. Her father always believed he would be rescued.

    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 2:57 PM #

      Ozzie HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

      Please see the chat area for a little special song from LIH.

  6. Open Book October 19, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

    I’m very interested in discussing why HW finds this topic taboo? Here are some other films which deals with PTSD amongst the military. Of these films which one have u seen and which ones did u find the most informative about this condition?

    Vietnam-era Films Presenting PTSD

    Taxi Driver (1976)
    Coming Home (1978)
    Apocalypse Now (1979)
    The Deer Hunter (1979)
    Return of the Soldier (1982)
    Birdy (1984)
    Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
    Heaven and Earth (1993)

    • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 5:14 PM #

      Also, not a war movie, but Reign Over Me with Adam Sandler deals with PTSD and it’s affect.

      • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:29 PM #

        Ahhh! Yes… Another good example.

  7. Littlebells October 19, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

    WHat do you think?

    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 2:54 PM #

      Great! Great! find LB.

      Can’t wait to discuss tonight. I totally forgot about Shutter Island & The Manchurian Candidate both great films dealing with PTSD. I for one believe films should not be viewed as fact but merely as a conjecture of opinions and or concepts. However, I think the issue of ethics in films should be tread upon gently given most filmmakers complain of being censured by the MPAA. What do u think of ethics in films LB?

      • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 5:03 PM #

        When it comes to PTSD and mental illness, I think filmmakers need to be very well informed about the difference. These checklists and tests for PTSD are used to determine the actual syndrome versus mental disorder. Of course I think both subject matter need to be dealt with compassionately, but truthfully. If filmmakers are more informed about the difference in the two, they can give more accurate accounts in their films.

        I wish there were more films that dealt with the relationships between those with PTSD and their family. Some of the films we mentioned here deal with it to a degree, but I would like to see more family involvement and dynamics. I think it would be beneficial for those who are in that predicament and know that they are not alone. Of course, this is only my opinion. I have no idea what it is like for someone with this disorder and how it would affect my life.

        As for ethics, I believe in reality. Even if something is deemed unethical, but it is true, I’m ok with that. I don’t have to like it, but I would rather see truth portrayed than something altered in fear of offending someone. Again, no one is forcing you to see a film you don’t want and yet I know studios want to make money. They will make films that will draw a crowd.

        • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 5:19 PM #

          *Brothers is probably the closest to dealing with family*

          • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

            ITA! LB- I think their should be more film with family dealing with the issue. I think Simons does a wonderful job showing the aftermath of war and how families are impacted by it.

            However, I agree there needs to be more distinction between mental illness and PTSD. Why do u think filmmakers choose to confuse the two conditions?

            • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:33 PM #

              Well, I think it can go different ways:

              1) they don’t care to know the difference

              2) they don’t research enough to distinguish the two

              Honestly, I don’t know.

              • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

                I think it’s that they are looking to over dramatize the issue and mental illness offers them that ability. Many filmmakers, directors and actors typically do extensive research plus films have experts on set etc…. So it’s not that they don’t know. I think it’s what going to make the most impact. IMO!

                • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:39 PM #

                  You would know better than me. 🙂 Why do you think people are more attracted to the “crazy” and “violent”?

                  • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:48 PM #

                    Well TBH I think it’s a huge misconception that filmmakers typically make. That is the shock & awe factor. It seems most audiences respond better to extreme actions rather then cerebral films where a character & plot may evolve overtime. Allowing audiences to identify with the characters situation. Does that make sense?

                    • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:50 PM #

                      Yes, yes that does make sense and I agree. And yet it is the cerebral films that are the most realistic and could be of great inspiration to someone who is dealing with it on some level.

                    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:54 PM #

                      ITA but are audiences overdosed on over the top shock & awe? Given how gossip has taken over the Internet I would say no!

                    • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:59 PM #

                      Honestly I do not fully comprehend “shock and awe”. I would think that after having submersed ourself in so much of it, that it would have worn off. And yet I do see that although society as a whole does like shock and awe, we have become desensitized to many things. Will we ever reach a point where nothing is shocking?

                    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:39 PM #

                      Yes me too. I think…. COME ON!!! What gives? There is so much positivity to gain if we give to others. Shock & Awe is all about unhappy people looking to hurt someone. Why seek that out?

  8. Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:02 PM #

    Hi everyone!!

    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:24 PM #

      Hi LB!

      Great article. I’m here!!! Let me catch up!

  9. Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:29 PM #

    Just some info on POW camps from my friend whose father was one for 4 years on Corregidor Island:

    * They ate whatever crawled across the floor that they could catch.

    * They ate weeds and grass.

    * Slept in bunks, butt for torture would be put in holes in the ground or placed in a box where you could neither stand or sit. It would be like being stuck in a squat, and this would be for days on end.


    * American nurses that were captured were hung upside down on meat hooks (I will let you guess where they were hooked) and left to die. Her father said all of them died and you could see blood marks ont he wall where they tried to swing to unhook themselves.
    *Japanese would eat the liver of their dead enemies because they believed that’s where the soul was. It was another way of defeating the enemy in their eyes.


    *before Hiroshima, there were two other bombings. After the second one, they waited and waited to be taken from their bunks. No one ever came and when they peaked out, no one was around. They ran and found a radio. They were able to radio for help. An American plane dropped x-amount of frozen hams through the roof of the kitchen at the camp they were at.

    She said her father never talked about it, but never seemed to suffer from any type of PTSD. The one time he did discuss it with her, he said his attitude the entire time in prison was to never give up. He never doubted he would be rescued. He saw those that did give up and they were the ones who died. Upon returning home, he never looked back. It was done and over with and he was moving on. I know that’s not true for everyone and that’s why each person and case is so sensitive and personal.

    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:32 PM #

      Wow! I’m still trying to erase the women being hung image. Give me a few minutes.

      • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:34 PM #

        Yeah, I had to have her repeat that to me because I didn’t think I heard right and I couldn’t not find that online. I think it’s one of those bits of info that was purposely not communicated.

  10. Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:38 PM #

    In regards to the article I posted regarding ethics, I liked how they mentioned how most war films make people with PTSD out to be “monsters”. It is not always like that. Some suffer in great silence and become almost mute. They literally just shut down.

    While those in the military are at a more dangerous risk due to their training, it doesn’t mean all act like violent creatures.

  11. Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:41 PM #

    Do u think filmmakers when they make films about PTSD believe it’s not as dramatic? What’s the recovery rate and duration of PTSD victims?

    • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:48 PM #

      That is a really great question, OB. In my research, some filmmakers still somehow link the two together. They aren’t.

      As for your question, I think filmmakers do find it dramatic as seen with The Deer Hunter and Brothers. I think it’s taking the next step and looking at how those with PTSD can get help and overcome their demons.

      I would love to see TSG on film, obviously, or any other movie that would take us through the proper therapy and watching someone and their family work together on letting go of the past and the emotions that come with it.

      Now for the second question!

      • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:51 PM #

        What’s the second Q

        • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

          recover rate! 🙂

          • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

            oops! Recovery time.

    • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:53 PM #

      Cognitive BEhavioral Therapy (“talk therapy”) is the most effective of all treatments for PTSD patients. Their success rate is about 80%. Treatment can last from 3-6 months or 1-2 years depending on the patient and their level of stress.

      There is also Exposure therapy which works on not being afraid of your memories and emotions.

      • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:56 PM #

        I should say “overall effectiveness”. Not success. it depends on location, course structure, and physician.

      • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:57 PM #

        Excellent LB!!

  12. Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 7:54 PM #


    Which of the films have you seen and what was your opinion of them?

    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 7:58 PM #

      Well I’ve seen all that u and I listed here. Of all of them. Hmm! Give me a moment.

      • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:02 PM #

        I have seen The Deer Hunter, but not all the way through, The Messenger, Born on the Fourth of July, and Apocalypse Now.

        I was greatly impressed with Cruise’s portrayal of a Vietnam Vet and I appreciated the reality of his life inside the hospital following his amputation. I was definitely shocked by that. I learned a lot in that film.

      • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:06 PM #

        I would say “Born on the 4th of July” and “Brothers” would be the best example of PTSD IMO. However, I’m not an expert so I’m only guessing here. I think both films does a good job focusing on the individuals inner turmoil without there being extreme ups and downs in behavior. Both films do have the climatic going ape ***** crazy but it’s handled fairly realistically. What about U?

        • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:09 PM #

          haha, see post above! I picked the same BOT4J. 🙂

          I like the fact that they go crazy because I think at some point, one would. That is realistic.

          For a filmmaker, I think it is important that if they are going to portray reality, they need to be considerate and respectful of the emotions one goes through. I don’t think they should be blown out of proportion or underplayed.

          • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:13 PM #


        • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:17 PM #

          An excellent, excellent scene:

          What a great look at the family dynamics!!

  13. Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:07 PM #


    Have you seen Beautiful Boy? We watched it last night and I though it was very profound in how it dealt with a family’s reactions to their son’s killings and suicide. I wouldn’t classify it as PTSD, but definitely a grieving process that any man or woman would have to go through.

    I appreciated the filmmakers desire to show how a family copes with their emotions of such a tragic event. I felt all their emotions and credit the actors with the authentic reactions of denial, sadness, and rage. I think it would help all of us who have dealt with a death of any kind to know 1) that we are not alone in our emotions and 2) there is no wrong or right way to respond.

    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:11 PM #

      Is this the film your talking about?

      • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:13 PM #


        • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:14 PM #

          I have not seen this film. It looks good though the cast looks good.

          • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:16 PM #

            I would highly recommend it. You can get it at Redbox right now.

            • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:33 PM #

              It’s not on Netflix or Amazon?

              • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:41 PM #

                Oh probably, but I rented it from Redbox. 🙂 Let me check….yes you can “add” it on Netflix. Not available for streaming…yet.

  14. Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:12 PM #


    I was reading somewhere in my vast research (I’ve got web addresses going for days!!!) and somewhere it said that the public seems to be over war movies. Why do you think that is? Is it the topic? Is it the “we get it, we get it”? “Is it the violence? What do you think? Do they need to take a different angle and if so, what might be a different approach?

    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:21 PM #

      Well something I stated to u on PagetoSilverScreen is how Simons used a love story to gently ease us into the reality and horror of WWII. I think too often filmmakers try to aggresively show audiences the realities that’s why Green Zone with Matt Damon did badly. Yet Atonement did well. Also, filmmakers tell stories using the current war. I think audiences would be more receptive if it was a period film. Does that make sense?

      • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:26 PM #

        Absolutely! I think it is too much if it is just straight war and violence. There is always more going on. Family relationships, romance, friendships, etc…are what tie us to the characters and seeing what they are like inside their heart.

        Current wars are to fresh in our minds and of those who are serving or have family serving. It’s like films that deal with 9/11. I know Remember Me did well, but I actually left before that part because I knew it would be too much for me. But then again that is part of our generation. Someone born then or after may not have a problem with it.

        Ok, totally got off topic. Yes, I agree with what you said! haha! 🙂

        • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:32 PM #

          ITA- I think War is War and I think it’s too much to ask audiences who are looking to escape to be drenched in films about the current crisis. Yes, we can’t live in denial but I think there needs to be some balance. IMO!

      • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:27 PM #

        I forgot to mention that a love story gives us that softness we need to pull us back from the atrocities of battle and imprisonment. We want to see what happens and we rally for the hero.

        • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:32 PM #


  15. Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:39 PM #

    I really hope that if TBH and it’s sequels get made that the filmmaker really use Paullina to their advantage. I think her films could be just as inspiring as her books.

    • Open Book October 20, 2011 at 8:41 PM #

      Me to.

      LB- I have to go for the evening. But it was a fantastic article and discussion. I will check back tomorrow,

      • Littlebells October 20, 2011 at 8:42 PM #

        Thank YOU OB! Always a wonderful time here. Have a great evening!

        For those of you we missed, we wish you a wonderful evening as well. See you next time!


  16. comic relief October 21, 2011 at 2:19 PM #


    Sorry I could not be there for the discussion.

    I thought PTSD was a condition that resulted from long exposure a particular or painful event but I just heard that children can experience this after watching a disturbing television show.

    To your knowledge do adults experience the trauma worst than children; since adults appear to sustain the reaction longer?

    • Open Book October 21, 2011 at 2:55 PM #

      Hi CR-

      We missed u yesterday. What films have u seen on this topic and what did u think of the condition after seeing the film?

    • Littlebells October 21, 2011 at 3:35 PM #

      HI CR!

      No problem. I’m glad you stopped by. 🙂

      I’m not really sure. I think most children do recover faster, as they have that capability being young and still having room to fill wonderful things in their mind. Of course they still need a lot of therapy. I haven’t heard that about disturbing television, but I definitely can see the validity in it.

      I think adults have a harder time of letting go, for whatever reason.

      Here is an article I found on PTSD in children. I hope this helps.


    • comic relief October 21, 2011 at 5:32 PM #

      Well I saw many of the films you mentioned.

      I believe one that made an impression on me was “Reign over me”; I know it does not involve the military. But the way the character resigned from the a life most of us consider normal seemed in sync with what YOU claimed was the most common reaction to the PTSD. I believe “Brothers” was equally compelling yet I now think the use of the threat of violence might be, using your evaluation, unrealistic.

      • comic relief October 21, 2011 at 5:33 PM #


        Thanks for the link.

  17. naziemna telewizja cyfrowa wiki October 24, 2011 at 6:40 PM #

    Thanks for posting this article it was great!

    • littlebells October 25, 2011 at 11:55 AM #

      You are very welcome! I hope it was useful. 🙂

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