Almost Sunrise is a brutal and beautiful new documentary about the deep loss of self that’s felt after returning from war. The film follows Tom and Anthony, two Iraq war veterans and friends. Together, they embark on a 2,700 mile soul-searching cross country hike, and impact many people’s lives along the way. As their planned trip turns into a traveling campaign for the awareness of soldier suicides, the film reflects on the weight of this issue right alongside the two men. It never shies away from confronting the problem head on. It shows the largely ignored psychological pain that combat veterans can experience, and the affect it has on those around them.
Sunrise’s main purpose is to explore the concept of a “moral injury” – the deep sense of grief a soldier can feel after coming home. They feel that orders they followed during the war were fundamentally against their sense of right and wrong, leaving them stuck dealing with the weight of their actions. Through its editing, the film manages to visually show us this complex and devastating concept that the interviewed veterans describe, putting the audience in the mind of its subjects.
The opening scene has Tom honestly discuss the pain he feels for the inhumanity of war he witnessed firsthand. It’s intercut with footage of him as a small child, and several shots of the harrowing violence in the streets of war-torn Iraq. In scenes like this, Almost Sunrise uses every cinematic tool it has to communicate what’s going through this man’s mind. You feel his lost connection to humanity and the weight of death on his shoulders. This is an incredibly moving film about an exceptionally difficult subject. Although you may watch it through tears, following these men on their journey is ultimately inspiring, and leaves you with a sense of hope.
I had the pleasure of seeing the film at the Washington West Film Festival recently, where Tom spoke in person afterwards about his continued efforts to council and provide a voice for soldiers struggling through moral injuries and suicidal impulses. It was fascinating to personally see him talk about the subject and his passion for helping those in need. Frequently with documentaries, I wonder how well the finished film reflects the personality of its subjects. It’s wonderful to see firsthand how honest Almost Sunrise is in capturing the essence of this truly inspiring person. He spoke of how deeply happy he is to see the movie version of his story positively affecting as many audience members as it has been. This is a person who gives everything he has for the betterment of others, and the film displays that remarkably.
I was truly moved by Almost Sunrise. It is an unflinching, intense look into the often unnoticed internal pain of returning service-people that will stick with me for years to come.
Tom Voss is now the National Veteran Liaison for http://www.projectwelcomehometroops.org/