In Blood Stripe, a Marine sergeant (known only as Our Sergeant) returns from her latest deployment to start civilian life. She has a difficult time fitting in with family and friends. She finds much of her daily life meaningless. She is unable to sleep. She has episodes of anger and fear. It will be months before she can get into the VA. One day when Our Sergeant (Kate Nowlin) is going through memorabilia she sees a postcard from a church camp she went to as a child. Can that be a place of healing for her? Running away from her family she sets off to the camp where she volunteers to help the caretaker. It is a place of peace and solace. She meets people who are loving and caring. But perhaps her internal wounds are more that anyone can ultimately deal with.
There have been a number of films dealing with veterans coming home with PTSD and related issues. Some of those have been about women who have served in combat. Usually such films try to give us some sense of the trauma that happens in battle. In those films we are subjected to battle scenes that have created the pains and wounds (both physical and emotional) that these soldiers come home with. But Blood Stripe never shows us what Our Sergeant has gone through. We don’t get to see a cause/effect relationship. Instead we, like her family and friends, only see that she is in pain now. It creates frustration and a sense of helplessness. That is intentional on the part of the filmmakers, to put us in an uncomfortable position as we try to relate to Our Sergeant.
When I noted the church connection to the camp to which Our Sergeant has run, I feared it would make for a trite story. One might expect that as Our Sergeant spends time in nature and comes across people of faith that she might have an epiphany in which she finds healing in the grace that is all around her. She does find some peace by being close to nature and away from most people. There are people of faith who are accepting of her journey. But the film doesn’t rely on cheap grace or easy epiphanies. In fact, the film is not about Our Sergeant finding healing at all. The ending will probably leave many feeling lost, sad, or perhaps angry, in that it doesn’t take us where we want to go. Instead it takes us into Our Sergeant’s (and so many other soldier’s) despair. It reminds us that the costs of war are far beyond what can be measured in budgets.