Blood Stripe is a subtle, and yet violent, critique of American veteran treatment—yes, the insufficiency of PTSD therapy, but what is more, our tendency to walk past these very individuals every day on the sidewalk. In Blood Stripe, director and co-writer Remy Auberjonois and writer Kate Nowlin force us to reflect on this duality and also beg the questions: what happens to the human that survives—and causes—death? How are they supposed to go on living like it never happened? (MJJ: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Malin J. Jornvi
In the opening scene of Blood Stripe, we learn that a female combat veteran has just returned to US soil. We see her walk through the airport, greet a familiar person at the baggage claim, and exit onto the street. She then sits down and waits. And waits. As time passes by, we wonder: why does no one pick her up?
We never learn the name of Our Sergeant (Kate Nowlin), but we soon understand that she is suffering from intense PTSD. And throughout the feature, we get to see nightmarish hallucinations of what she has gone through, but we never get to know what really happened. Where do the scars on her back come from? Why does she violently attack a man touching her at her welcome home party? Why does having sex with her husband make her throw up? The subtlety and the unanswered questions leave the viewer slightly disconnected from the story. But when the narrative picks up about 20 minutes in, and more characters resembling stereotypical caricatures, are introduced, we start to understand that the many loose ends and hollow personas are the results of seeing the story through her eyes. Her detachment from American society is as detached as the audience should feel while watching the story unfold. This approach to illustrate her alienation is an intriguing but dangerous line to tread, and unfortunately Blood Stripe falls too much on the unengaged side during the first part of the film in order to fully recover.
However, other sophisticated cinematic techniques improve the end result: the score is beautifully fitting, and the use of silence is dumbfounding. Remy Auberjonois’ long experience with film is also visible in the deliberate use of nature and the choice of revisiting a post-season summer camp setting, which brings a lot of secondary momentum to the story. We see our heroine drive to her old summer camp where she meets the keeper, Dot (Rusty Schwimmer), and stays to help out with the preparation for fall. The honest work and the therapeutic impact of structured tasks are interwoven into the storyline as they sweep the floors and tentatively bond over peanut butter-jelly sandwiches. Dot soon nicknames the redheaded sergeant “Lioness,” and further asks her if she has any kids. The contrast between the strong military-trained body with the protective lion-like façade and her reply is striking: “I never had the courage.”
With limited interaction, Sergeant Lioness continues her solitary existence. Then a group of Christians on retreat, led by their pastor, Art (Remy Auberjonois), shows up. Blood Stripe’s heavy material receives a touch of comic relief in the juxtaposition between the jolly Christians and the assumed past of our heroine’s army experience. But the clash is told with a strong tone of seriousness: In the “kumbaya” scene, when the Christians sit around the campfire singing songs, Sergeant Lioness walks up to the ashes and strokes two thick lines on her cheeks. Through the heroine’s ongoing struggle, though surrounded by kind and healthy people, it becomes evident that the Christian group also serves to prove another point: prayers are not the same as PTSD treatment.
Throughout her time at the camp, Sergeant Lioness’ mental health continues to deteriorate. In my favorite scene, she is out running when a car with two men blasting heavy metal drives past eyeballing her. Like every woman that has ever been stared down or catcalled on the street should do, she stops and at the top of her lungs screams: “What the fuck are you looking at?” A response that is neither civil or womanlike, but oh so liberating. Nevertheless, the moment of relief soon escapes as her temper, and PTSD-inspired visions, escalate. The tension of the narrative continues to build, and the complete helplessness of our stone-faced warrior when she in utter desperation calls home: “I need you to come get me,” is beyond heartbreaking.
Blood Stripe takes some unexpected turns, but in the end, the intention of the storyline is clear. As she calls home, begging for help, an automated voice reminds us that nobody hears, nobody listens—nobody is there to pick her up.
© Malin J. Jornvi (10/3/17) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Blood Stripe movie poster.
Middle Photo: Sergeant Lioness and Art in a canoe.
Bottom Photo: Sergeant Lioness hiding under a pier.
Photo Credits: Blood Stripe
Q: Does Blood Stripe pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Yes. Most especially in the scene when Dot and Sergeant Lioness discussing the protagonist’s war experience.