Battlefield to the Bedroom

Posted June 3, 2014

By: Molly Blake, Blue Star Families

The volleyball scene.

Shirtless tanned and toned bods of a much younger (and less Scientology-y) Tom Cruise still revs up the engines of women everywhere while the adrenaline-pumping aerial dogfights are arguably one of naval aviation’s most successful recruit campaigns. And while the 1986 film “Top Gun” received a so-so review in the New York Times, lines like “I feel the need, the need for speed” flew Mach 1 into pop culture lore to the tune of $354 million.

But long before Maverick and Goose introduced civilians to call signs and carrier landings, films like “Platoon,” and “Kelly’s Heroes” chronicled the bloody reality of WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and Korean War battles. More recently “Lone Survivor” and “The Hurt Locker” – the story of a US bomb disposal team in Iraq earned three Academy Awards and opened the publics’ eyes to the grim, up close combat warfare facing modern service members.

But what about the spouses? Evangeline Lilly’s limited scenes in “The Hurt Locker,” showed her in the kitchen cooking or in the grocery store. Three other relatively current war movies, “Black Hawk Down,” “Three Kings,” and “Jarhead,” left spouses’ lives largely on the editing room floor. Save for lesser-known documentaries, military spouses are framed for the most part in convenient and rather conventional terms.

“They never show the spouse repairing a major home appliance,” said Devra Renner, an author and Air Force spouse who counts “Saving Private Ryan” and “When We Were Soldiers” among her favorite war films. “We are not overwhelmed all the time.”

And if military spouses are not making casseroles, allegorically speaking, then the impossibly flawless women are caught up in a fairy-tale romance with a wildly attractive soldier or Marine. Think “Dear John,” and “The Lucky One.” Where are the real spouses? The nurses, lawyers, doctors and teachers who have endured 11 years of war. And why hasn’t Hollywood come up with a film that accurately depicts today’s military spouses like Cameron Allison, an entrepreneur and small business owner who auspiciously juggle work and family life. Jane Boursaw, a syndicated film critic, has a theory.

“People don’t watch those kinds of movies for reality,” said Boursaw. “They watch hoping that Richard Gere walks through a factory and symbolically carries them out of there!”

“Hollywood is caught in a kind of timelessness,” said Renner. “That,” said Allison “is exactly what it’s not.”

This notion that military marriages are all melodramatic passion or heart-pounding death notifications is problematic for Amanda Fox. She’s an active duty Navy Aeromedical Safety Officer and friends with several military spouses who, she says, are portrayed in movies as “stereotypical and weak.”

“It’s so not the case,” said Fox who added, “but I guess it sells.”

“It would be helpful,” said Renner, “if Hollywood depicted the diversity.”

“If producers are going to make a realistic movie, then they owe the community the time and respect to find out what’s real,” said Fox.

It turns out that Lifetime does get it right according to Marine spouse Diana Phillips who despite “ridiculous dramatic situations,” watches Army Wives religiously. “It accurately shows the different dynamics between couples.”

For better or worse added Renner, it’s important to remember one important fact.

“It is just a movie.”

As for the draw of the dashing man in uniform – that is, in fact, the truth.

“Men absolutely do look good in uniform,” said Fox.