The Invisible War is one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen in years. It’s a film that aims to document the longstanding epidemic of rape in the American military system, which it does, with equal parts candor, rage, dread, and indecision. Like the best of Kirby Dick’s films, The Invisible War tells its story from just one side. I imagine that Dick goes at great lengths to hear from the other side of the issues he exposes, but I presume in this case, that other side prefers to publicly remain hidden.
To be honest, I could attempt to rehash a handful of the circumstances in which these victims were violated, but that’s a place I simply don’t want to go. In my head or in print. I’ll let the women do the talking.
As a commenter on this site recently mentioned, it’s not about what I saw, it’s about what I felt. Going solely off that criterion, The Invisible War is one of the more effecting documentaries I’ve seen recently, and we’ve certainly been given our fair share these last couple of years. The movie isn’t easy to stomach, and its complete lack of resolution (because how can I person who has been raped ever fully live a “resolved” life?) will undoubtedly leave many as frustrated as I was, but at its core, The Invisible War seeks to expose.
More on that in a bit, but first a minor qualm.
If you’ve made it this far in the review, I think my sympathy for the victims in this film is obvious. With that noted, there are simply too many subjects here. I didn’t keep an accurate count of all the victims, but upwards of two dozen people appear in the film, many of who were given only a few sentences of screen time. I understand that by hearing more stories, the point is further driven home, but it’s just too much, at least for an hour and 40 minute long film.
In terms of faults, that’s all I’ve got. Really, it is goddamn hard to not appreciate a film like this, for a multitude of reasons. Here’s one: Kori Cioca was serving in the US Coast Guard when she was raped by her commanding officer. The film spends a great deal of time with her, mostly chronicling her inability to have the Department of Veterans Affairs cover her (many and ongoing) medical expenses since her attack. Directly before she was raped, Cioca’s attacker slapped her in the face, which has resulted in permanent facial nerve damage. In a cinematic world of ridiculous and wildly inaccurate fighting sequences, it’s impossible to not appreciate the fact that The Invisible War shows how just one slap can completely and utterly ruin a life.
It’s that level of attention to detail that makes this film so commendable. Kirby Dick is responsible for many exceptional documentaries. From the desperation of the subjects seeking sex surrogates in Private Practices to the MPAA exposé This Film is Not Yet Rated to the closeted gay politicians of Outrage to the pedophiliac priest of Twist of Faith, Dick is a guy always looking to cause a stir. After seeing The Invisible War, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered that all military sexual assault cases are to be handled by people who rank colonel and higher. That’s a small but worthy step toward justice. An undoubted Oscar nomination for the film would be the same. A-