IN COUNTRY is a feature documentary that follows 2/5 1st Cav (Reenacted), a “platoon” of hardcore Vietnam War re-enactors. Weaving together verité footage of the reenactments with flashbacks to the characters’ real lives and archival footage from the Vietnam War, IN COUNTRY blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy, past and present to tell a story about men trying to access the past.
The question at the center of IN COUNTRY is why? Why would these men – many of them combat veterans of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan haunted by their own experiences on the frontline – try to recreate a war that so many have tried to forget?
The film-makers give part of their answer in the NYT:
Unlike most war re-enactments, the pretend battles they stage are private, free of spectators and created for the experience of the participants alone. Outfitted in authentic period military gear, the men hike through the woods for days at a time, sleep on the ground, eat canned rations and carry actual Vietnam-era weapons (loaded with blanks). They do not stage battles but rather attempt to find and “kill” a group of Vietcong re-enactors waiting to ambush them.
Most remarkable perhaps is how this unusual hobby brings combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan together with civilians and veterans of Vietnam. They work collectively to create a fascinating space where real emotions and memories mix with history and fantasy. Their reasons for participating vary: Some seek the camaraderie they experienced in their deployment, while others want to relive a vital time in their life. And for all of the veterans involved, it is an event at which their service is acknowledged and respected.
For my part, there have been many comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam, but from the clips I’ve seen (and the clean uniforms) I don’t think the literal meaning of quagmire is re-staged in the Oregon woods very often…