'Blood Stripe' defies the Hollywood odds by getting it right for military women

I went to the LA Film Festival to watch a film about a female Marine, expecting to be bored and disappointed. I was neither.

“Blood Stripe” is a well-crafted piece of cinematic art that describes bluntly – and accurately – the difficulties faced by the main character “Sarge” (Kate Nowlin) when she comes back home after serving in the Marine Corps. She realizes she has changed, and those around her cannot fully relate to the person she has become. Her circle questions her emotions, reactions, and behavior, oblivious to the trauma she just left.

BloodStripeMovie

Kate Nowlin in “Blood Stripe.”

As I said, my initial expectations were low. What could civilians know about making war movies, especially war movies about women? I assumed the film would be some “GI-Jane” type of nonsense, a cliché like Jessica Simpson’s character in the atrocious “Private Valentine.” Simpson, clad in a full face of makeup, hair out of regs, clean, and completely un-military is the type of Hollywood characterization that could well make women avoid watching military movies at all. I anticipated a tepid film with a fairytale ending where everyone solves their problems and proclaims “the war is over, let’s all be happy!” In life, especially the military, there is rarely a fairytale ending.

In life, especially the military, there is rarely a fairytale ending. Sarge comes home to the husband she left behind, she gets a job, she drinks a lot of beer; her life may not be great, but it’s okay. Something deep inside keeps nagging at her, memories she would rather forget bubble to the surface. We see a very broken woman, unable to put the pieces of her life back together after an intense military experience. As she slides deeper into alcoholism, Sarge decides to run away from her life and work at Camp Vermillion, the summer camp snuggled deep in the woods of Minnesota, which she attended as a child.

But something deep inside keeps nagging at her, memories she would rather forget bubble to the surface. We see a very broken woman, unable to put the pieces of her life back together after an intense military experience. As she slides deeper into alcoholism, Sarge decides to run away from her life and work at Camp Vermillion, the summer camp snuggled deep in the woods of Minnesota, which she attended as a child.

Sarge is dealing with issues normally portrayed by male characters — dark emotions and feelings not typically associated with women veterans. She is not looking to be a hero nor trying to find a savior; she does not want a parade nor does she want accolades. The war has followed her home, and the tentacles of a vile monster called PTSD are beginning to creep into her life.

The metaphor of running is used throughout the film. Sarge vainly attempts to work out her issues in the typical military manner: She PTs. She does scores of push-ups and sit-ups and tries to literally run from her problems. She can run, but the deep-seated internal turmoil of combat is always there.

The film highlights not only the struggles of most service members to successfully readjust to post-military life but accurately shows the obstacles female veterans explicitly face. One of Sarge’s new friends at Camp Vermillion repeats a line not dissimilar to what many female veterans often hear: “You’re a girl Marine–do they even make those?”

Yes, yes they do. These words demonstrate what females face once they have left the military: disbelief about their military service and treated as if they are not true veterans.

Society has still not fully embraced the notion that women are capable of both giving and taking life; that women can struggle with a war long after arriving back home. Kate Nowlin does an excellent job portraying a woman coming to grips with herself. Her character is both credible and authentic, and alarmingly real. Military women come from all walks of life, they look like your sister or mother or cousin or neighbor; they are unassuming women accomplishing extraordinary feats – although most of them keep their remarkable achievements to themselves.

The war gave Sarge a lot of things: a sense of purpose, pride, strength, and courage. It also took a lot of things away from her: identity, her sense of security, camaraderie.  War changes us, life changes us. In the end, this was a film not merely about war and women, but also the struggles we all face during this unique human experience and a longing to find our way back home, wherever that may be.

 

“Blood Stripe” had its world premiere in June 2016 at the Los Angeles Film Festival to a sold-out audience. It won the coveted U.S. Fiction Award.

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