Welcome to the Desert of the Real

While searching through Molleindustria’s site, I came across a link to a machinima called Welcome to the Desert of the Real, created using America’s Army, the military’s free propaganda game. I was quite surprised and intrigued by this, dubbed a “reverse propaganda film” about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The film uses footage from the game along with text from the Army’s official PTSD manual.

I was struck by the aesthetic values of the film, which takes a machine of war and beats its sword into a ploughshare machine of art. Each image is aesthetic, the blocky polygon approximations reduced to Lawrence of Arabia-esque desertscapes with ruins of Middle Eastern buildings, dust storms, and endless spreads of desert where jagged edges of ground textures dance on the edges of vision like a mirage. A piece of war, now a piece of aesthetics. It also suggests connections with war photography, but also with film, landscape, and the surreal. But this aesthetic approach is top notch, with well-polished cinematography and artistic composition of shots.

This said, I find the connections to PTSD seem a little obscure. The lone soldier treads through this surreal dreamscape, a desert void of life, both friend and foe. It is a space he wanders by himself, and yet it does not directly reference any specific PTSD events (aside from a shooting in the opening). While on the one hand, I appreciate the game’s distancing from imagery of violence and death, or even just the leavings of battle, the juxtaposition of words and imagery seems more a space to let the words sink in rather than to suggest a connection between word and image. If anything, the film has to do with PTSD through the loneliness and silent, solitary patrol of the soldier and his lonely battle with the illness. He feels isolated, unable to cope with this demon and afraid he will be ostracized for admitting it. As such, it eats him away like the heat of the desert sands and the baking rays of the sun. However, this connection might be difficult to make for most people, as our images of what PTSD actually is and its effects are obscure to the sheltered mind, the words not directly connected with the imagery beyond tenuous metaphor.

Also…Wordpress does not seem to directly support Vimeo, despite the fact it has better display conditions than YouTube.

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