‘Man Down’ Shines Strong Light on Veterans and PTSD

Film's screenwriter tells LifeZette, 'Our government is utterly failing these guys and girls'

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 02 Dec 2016 at 9:18 AM

Hollywood typically doesn’t like to touch veterans’ stories and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). While the occasional “American Sniper” will sneak through the cracks (thanks to the pull of superstars like Clint Eastwood), one new film looks to be bucking Tinseltown’s safety nets and taking on both subjects in a direct and personal way.

Starring Shia LaBeouf as a veteran searching for his family in an unrecognizable America, screenwriter Adam G. Simon told LifeZette the goal of his new movie is “to place the audience in the driver’s seat of someone who’s suffering from PTSD.”

The National Center for PTSD says that 11 to 20 percent of Iraq veterans suffer from PTSD in a given year. Some 12 percent of Gulf War veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have dealt with PTSD in their lifetimes as well — though those statistics are generally considered very low, as PTSD is still a young diagnosis and one that military and medical professionals are still learning to deal with effectively.

The new film is intercut with different timelines that follow LaBeouf's character both before and after a traumatic experience overseas. Simon said the movie was born out of his own personal struggles and how they brought him face-to-face with America's issues with helping veterans.

"I had just been through a divorce and a bankruptcy. I had just spent the night on the street. I was kicked out of my apartment. I didn't have anything. I was separated from my kids," said Simon. "Over the next few weeks, as I tried to piece my life back together and get in a stable position, I kept coming in contact with veterans who were living on the street."

Related: How Veterans Can Fight Their Way Through PTSD

He recalled one experience in which he saw a man in Santa Monica, California, on the street holding a woman by her shirt and screaming military terms at her and that she needed to clear the area. After the man was scared off, Simon followed him. The two had an altercation that led to the man being arrested.

After meeting with the cops, Simon said he discovered that "this guy returned three weeks prior from Afghanistan. He was fresh out of the VA, trying to get the help he needed."

Simon said the experience stuck with him as someone who deals with a form of PTSD from childhood abuse. "His reality — what his eyeballs were seeing — was not reality. He was back in Afghanistan."

"This happens in law enforcement, with firefighters ... anyone who deals with trauma."

Simon began writing a story about his own struggles, about a father trying to reunite with his children, but the experience in dealing with veterans inspired "Man Down" to become something more. "My story became their story," he explained.

The screenwriter reiterated a growing sentiment among citizens — but something few artists wish to say about veterans. "They're suffering and our government, the private sector, is doing a great job, but our government is utterly, completely failing to help these guys and girls." Because politicians and pundits twist veteran affairs into political issues, it makes his movie far more controversial than it should be, he said.

Judging by the screenings the makers of the film have hosted for veterans around the country and Simon's own relationship with many who have served, the film has only the best intentions of honestly examining the struggles and sacrifices of America's soldiers. "This isn't a condemnation of the soldier. It's a condemnation of the system, of the process," Simon said.

He described discussing the issue of PTSD with real-life soldiers as "breaking a wall of silence." Simon made clear it's not just the military thatstruggles with these issues either, but all first responders. "This happens in law enforcement, with firefighters ... anyone who deals with trauma."

"Man Down" hits theaters today.

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