I watched "In the Valley of Elah" this last Sunday. It is one of the most outstanding and deepest American movies I have ever seen. It stars Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron.
The movie is about a soldier who goes missing after returning from Iraq. Tommy Lee Jones plays the father who tries to find him and when he discovers he has been murdered tries to solve the crime.
As the movie unfolds, one sees the horror of war - not just the victims on a battlefield but the monsters that soldiers become. This movie shows this in an unexpected way. Don't assume the best kids won't become psychopaths under the horrors of war.
The Valley of Elah is where David slew Goliath. Lee Jones tells the story to a kid not realising the irony. David the hero showed unbelievable courage. Asked by the little boy, "Was he scared?" Lee Jones replies of course. And hence David's immense courage.
The movie is not just about how war creates monsters of men. It is about how society molds them. Intolerant of weakness, society makes each one of us less human.
But to blame society is to further remove the problem. The story is about fathers and sons.
SPOILER ALERT - don't read the rest if you're going to watch the movie.
The Valley of Elah's end was as surprising and gratifyingly honest as any I have seen.
A father who deified David and the Calvinistic values the story espoused saw how his son might just have easily have been the killer as the killed. He saw how he created a monster in a home that did not tolerate weakness and glorified the fight for right. He saw how he unknowingly turned away his son after he had killed a child.
And he hoisted an upside down American flag sent home by his son - the signal for a country in in trouble and in need of help. At the beginning of the movie, he had showed an immigrant the error and corrected it.
Yet the kid he had told the story of David and Goliath had it repeated by his mother as he questioned her in awe of David's courage and strength. The woman was a single mom and the kid was growing up in a home without a father. In his brief contact with Lee Jones, he saw a father figure and he saw approval gained through bravery and weakness in fear.