When the cheers of the viral military homecomings have dissipated and the videos stop playing, real life begins. Netflix's new documentary, Father Soldier Son, pulls back the curtain and brings the viewer into the reality of the military family and the devastating cost of a 20-year war.
The public perception of a military service member leans toward words like heroic and exceptional. But they are human beings with real struggles as they live with the aftereffects of their commitment to this country. Father Soldier Son reveals that to the public. To create the documentary, two journalists from The New York Times spent 10 years (yes, 10 years) following American soldier Brian Eisch and his family.
What initially began as a film to document a battalion's year-long deployment in 2010 during a troop surge evolved into an unexpected new project for directors Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn.
"We really wanted to tell the stories of American soldiers and Brian was just one of many [in that deployment]. But his kids were just so captivating and they spoke with such honesty, openness and emotion about what they were going through. They really stuck with us," Einhorn explained.
The documentary begins with Eisch's sons, Issac and Joey. They share their feelings about their dad being deployed overseas and their deep fears for his safety. This is another unique perspective of this film; the public is given a glimpse of how deployment impacts military children.
The viewer then witnesses the joyful reunion for the boys when their dad comes home for a break in his deployment. It's not unlike the homecomings that go viral on social media. But then, the directors bring you in deeper with the emotional, compelling moments when the boys have to say goodbye; something not many members of the public ever witness.
When Eisch returned to combat in Afghanistan, he was shot.
Viewers are then brought on Eisch's journey of being a wounded warrior. "We were able to show the before and what the boys were going through while he was away and the anxiety and fear that they have. Then we showed what happened after," Einhorn explained. She continued, "There's this sort of iconic idea of a hero, but what does that really mean? What is the sacrifice? Brian had a truck drive into a field and then jumped out of it to try and rescue this wounded ally of his. That is a very heroic thing by all accounts and he received an award for that. But what did that mean for him and his life afterward?"
Every time the directors thought the film was done, things kept happening in Eisch's life that brought them back. "We got to take this personal and deep dive into this family to show how it [war] impacted them over time," Davis said.
Three years after his combat injury, the constant pain forced Eisch to undergo a leg amputation.
The events that unfold after following that are a reality for many service members experiencing physical or invisible wounds of war. This film will bring viewers on a journey filled with hope, but also devastating loss and pain. "As journalists we really wanted to make it a window into a military family…These quiet consequences and how they can ripple through a family and reshape things. That's what we witnessed with this family and felt hadn't been explored," said Einhorn.
Directors Catrin Einhorn (left) and Leslye Davis (right).
Both directors were asked how the family reacted to the documentary once it was revealed.
"We got to watch it with the family…He [Eisch] thinks it's true. He thinks the story accurately depicts his life. The first time the family watched it – it was very retraumatizing. They were in grief watching it, and shock. But it seems that it has their seal of approval," Davis shared. Einhorn added, "He said it was both joyful and devastating for them to watch it. He turned to us at the end and said, 'It's true, I am struggling.'"
"We look forward to what people take away from the film," Davis said.
The documentary is available at midnight on July 17 to Netflix subscribers. The directors shared that the New York Times will be releasing a follow up a few days after the release to give viewers an update on the family.
When watching the film, it will take viewers into the unadulterated reality for military families. Father Soldier Son is a stark reminder of the far reaching ripple effects of war.