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Return (2012)

Release Date:
Friday, February 10, 2012

MPAA Rating:
NR

Genre:
Drama

Starring:
Linda Cardellini, Michael Shannon, John Slattery, Talia Balsam, Emma Rayne Lyle, Paul Sparks, Louisa Krause, Rosie Benton

Written By:
Liza Johnson

Director:
Liza Johnson

Synopsis:
Back from a tour of duty, Kelli can't wait to rejoin her old life in the rust belt town she's always lived in. She's ready to experience the old feelings of everyday life- the carpet under her bare feet, a cold beer in front of the television, the smell of her baby's head. Slowly, though, she realizes that her everyday life doesn't resemble the one she left. Struggling to find her place in her family and the rust-belt town she no longer recognizes, what can she reclaim of her share of the way of life she's been fighting to protect?

Return (2012) | Review

A Different Homecoming
Darrel Manson

Content Image
Most films about soldiers returning from deployment focus on men. We may see violent, traumatic flashbacks. Return shows us the kinds of stress a woman can face coming back from deployment. We aren't sure what Kelli has faced; she tells us only that she didn't have it as hard as others. But when she gets back to her rust-belt hometown, it doesn't take her long to feel out of place. She tries to get back into the routines of family life and work. (She is in the National Guard, so is now returning completely to civilian life.) Her friends welcome her back, but the things they talk about seem unimportant to Kelli. After some time back at her manufacturing job (doing the same thing a few hundred times a day) she begins to have a crisis—she is searching for meaning and nothing here seems to be meaningful. She struggles to be a good wife and a good parent, but for some reason she can't keep her head in this mundane, civilian life. Before long, everything is beginning to fall apart.

Return also shows us that women returning may face a different kind of struggle than men do. Is it because of different expectations or different ways of dealing with emotional issues? We're never quite sure, but we clearly see that this woman soldier has needs that are not being met.

The community is struggling as well. At times she walks or drives around the town and we see boarded-up businesses. It seems the whole town is derelict. The depressed economy is just one more thing that makes it such a struggle for Kelli to readjust to her environment. It is easy to see Kelli as a kind of boarded-up life—the shell is still there, but no one can get in nor does she seem to be involved with this world anymore.

There is a certain minimalism to this story. We have no idea what Kelli did during the deployment. She was involved with supplies, but we don't know what her life was like in the war zone. We don't know if she has been in situations that might lead to something like post-traumatic stress. We don't know what life was like for her before deployment, but on her return home she no longer seems connected to this community or her family.

That minimalism is a plus in the case of this film. It gives us an opportunity to consider the kind of personal, emotional, and spiritual cost involved in being deployed to a war zone without having the kind of traumatic experience we usually associate with war. The film doesn't try to explain why Kelli is having a hard time readjusting—it only shows her struggle. Perhaps, as she often tells people, she didn't have it as bad as others, but that doesn't mean that she didn't have troubles or face danger. By judging her suffering relative to that of others, she may well be exhibiting a form of denial; since it's not as bad as others she may feel she doesn't need to deal with what has happened to her.

Return's unique perspective makes it an interesting addition to the collection of returning soldier films in recent years. Like all those films, this one shows us a cost of war that can never be figured into a budget.

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