Broken Courage: Torn Between Hurt and Hope

Directed by David Peck and Nathanael Draper, Broken Courage follows Suon Rottana, a former teenage soldier in the Khmer Rouge, as he finds new purpose and healing in his life. The documentary gives us a glimpse into the effects of war – we know that it is catastrophic for those who live through it, but now we see what that could look like. By following Suon, the effects of war are no longer just statistical to us. They are personal, and painful, and immediate.

In the film, Suon is pursuing different ways to keep his life going. He uses his skills in woodworking to create pieces for clients and act as a guide at the War Remnant Museum in Cambodia where he brings his personal memories to his role. We know from the rest of the documentary that Suon finds it difficult to revisit these memories, so his doing so brings up the theme of survival. Having lost his friends, youth, wife, and a leg, Suon’s determination to find joy and new connections as he goes on in life is remarkable. While he deals with his own survivor’s guilt and loneliness, Suon strives to make sure others feel supported and empowered, a decision that keeps people who are invested in his well-being around him. I think I bring this up a lot, but it is beautiful to see that there is a group of people there to catch a person if they happen to fall. It gives the film a note of hope: one that is within reach and, in fact, has already begun.

But it was the concept of karma and justice as presented in Broken Courage that was fascinating to me. Suon brings it up a few times, and I initially didn’t know what emotion to feel. On one hand, there is the idea that the people who would get children to fight in wars, torture other human beings or destroy entire people and families will eventually get the justice they deserve. On the other hand, we also see that Suon believes the losses in his life are a result of his actions, and that he must spend the rest of his life making up for his part in the war, which is heartbreaking to see. And then, with a perspective I don’t usually have, it seems that Suon can only live his life with contentment, helping other and finding joy because he has accepted his life must be the way it is. Like in no longer fighting against what could have been or should have been, he is free to make the most of what is.

What a lesson, even for us who haven’t had lives as difficult.

And what a tension, looking for justice and practicing grace.

Broken Courage is playing at the Oakville Film Festival. For more information, click here.

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