A Pervasive War
It’s like writing, uh, your own obituary. I suppose to look back at it and say, you know, I cared enough to go to these places and write, in some way, something that would make someone else care as much about it as I did at the time. Part of it is you’re never going to get to where you’re going if you acknowledge fear. I think fear comes later, when it’s all over.
-Rosamund Pike as Marie Colvin in “A Private War”
“If Americans ever looked in the mirror and liked what they saw, the concept of capitalism would collapse.” A close friend and sociologist said this to me once years ago and it has stayed with me. We are so deeply programmed to dislike our outward selves and appearance that we will literally break the bank chasing that next best fix.
I thought about this statement as I watched “A Private War'' with our campus film club this week. This biopic follows journalist Marie Colvin through the later part of her career leading up to her death in the Syrian city of Homs. She was fearless in her pursuit of the truth. There is a line about this being “the rough draft of history” and we have to find the truth of it. She travels into war zones in Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Syria, just to name a few. Where there is war and suffering, she put herself on the front lines to tell the story of the human lives impacted there. As Colvin looked into the faces of the mothers burying their innocent children, she stared directly into the eyes of absolute human devastation and never-ending grief. For many years she lived to report that pain to the outside world, thus honoring those victims.
The movie, however, centers around her private, inner battle as she balances the atrocities of war with her own life and personal struggles. She suffers from alcoholism and paralyzing PTSD. There is no way to unsee the ravages of war and dead bodies that haunt her mind day and night. Yet, in spite of all the violence and human suffering she has witnessed, it is her innate fears of aging, dying young, getting fat, not being accepted for her physical deformity (she loses an eye in an explosion on the field and wears an eye patch to hide the scars), and rejection from her father that keep her at war with herself.
For f@#*’s sake…
Issues with body image, death and acceptance from our parents run DEEP—like beyond PTSD deep. How is this possible? It is the factory, default setting for women in our culture. Colvin can witness the absolute worst behavior and complete absence of humanity on the battlefield, then return to her London flat to launch a raid on what she sees in the mirror.
There is a beautiful scene in the film where she stands naked in front of a bathroom mirror. She removes her eye patch before applying what we can assume to be anti-aging lotion. She turns to a full length mirror to check for weight gain as she scrutinizes her skeletal frame. Lastly, she enters a bathtub with her lover where he embraces her and kisses her scarred eye. It is such a painstakingly powerful moment in the movie. We cannot stop the senseless war in the world, but for one brief moment we can suspend the war within. Acceptance can exist because of our flaws, not in spite of them.
While Colvin’s life was about revealing the truth of others, this film unveiled the truth of her pain, which so many of us share. She ran into the fire because it is often easier to face the devil without than the devil within. Alcohol, sex and constant running could not silence the noise in her head. The demons in her mind were perhaps the most dangerous enemies she ever had to encounter.
There has to be a better path for us to forge. I have to believe there can be a world where we use energy to quiet the wars without because we are no longer at war with ourselves. Personal acceptance and grace are needed on such a deep, biological level. The Dalai Lama teaches, “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” This film reminded me of the profound work that still needs to be done, and how this pervasive war begins right in our own minds.