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The best films about PTSD from the Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War did not end for thousands of soldiers who returned to the United States and struggled to integrate due to PTSD, nightmares and a hostile society, many of whom were strongly opposed to war and saw them as murderers, not just children themselves. thrown into deadly combat scenarios. As a result, the transition was incredibly difficult and led to a whole group of people living as outcasts in their own country for being forced to do their patriotic duty. These films brilliantly deal with the PTSD of Vietnam War veterans and their struggles once they return home.

6 battle shock


battle shock
Troma Entertainment

This gritty, nasty, low-budget clash deals with both the Vietnam War and its aftermath, as we follow a former soldier who suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He walks around in a daze, not working, doing nothing but walking and observing the terrible world he lives in. He can’t pay the bills, and he can’t provide for his wife and their eraser head-baby monster type. He sees crime, violence, prostitution, heroin use (in one of the film’s most disturbing scenes), and more vice and brutality in battle shock.

Related: The Best Vietnamese Movies, Ranked

He ends up killing a group of low-level local gangsters, realizing there is no hope for the characters, no way out of their predicament. battle shock is incredibly dark, one of the most nihilistic films ever made about the costs of war on the fragile human psyche. The whole film is tragic and ugly, and the protagonist seems to be trapped in hell, with horrible memories of the war; there is no humor here, and there is no hope.


5 rolling thunder


Devane with a hook for one hand and a shotgun in Rolling Thunder
US International Photos

In rolling thunder, Charles Lane (William Devane) returns from the Vietnam War after seven years of service, much of it as a tortured prisoner in a POW camp. Upon his return, he begins to isolate himself, speaking only with his equally troubled friend and fellow warrior Johnny (Tommy Lee Jones). His wife, believing him dead, moved on to another man, but Lane stoically accepts everything, it seems.

His luck seems to turn when a grand ceremony is held for Lane as a POW survivor, and he receives a large sum of money from a local bank, but a gang of rotten scumbags invade his house and steal everything. They shoot him and cut off his hand, which he later replaces with a hook, and murder his son in front of him. When Lane later finds out where the criminals are hanging out, he and Johnny go there in order to get revenge. Devane’s Lane is a good man in a world brimming with evil, and his time in Vietnam pushes him to the limit for an unconditional reward. The film was co-written by Paul Schrader, who also wrote Taxi driver and Star 80.

Like many films dealing with Vietnam or PTSD, rolling thunder Is dark; it was so dark that during test screenings “the audience actually stood up and tried to physically assault the studio staff present among them”, as William Goldman writes in his book Adventures in screen trading. Devane even said that during a test screening, the audience tried to set the theater on fire. Studio heads actually screened the film for psychiatrists to try to figure out why test audiences reacted so violently and would have massively cut the film if the creatives hadn’t pulled it from Fox and taken it elsewhere.

4 Jacob’s Ladder


Jacob's Ladder
Tri Star Pictures

While serving in the Vietnam War, a platoon smokes marijuana mixed with a version of LSD that makes the user violent and aggressive, and chaos ensues. Jacob’s ladder, one of the most atmospheric horror films of all time. The film then cuts to the present, some twenty years later, and all of the surviving members of the platoon have nightmares about a massacre. Tim Robbins plays Jacob, who returns to America after the war and struggles to adjust.

He sees dead people and grotesque images everywhere, and he loses his mind. Faceless monsters stalk him everywhere. He finds himself spiraling into confusion and madness, so he tries to find his old platoon mates but still can’t find out exactly what happened that night when they smoked and everyone was murdered and massacred. Is he the victim of an experimental drug? Is he dead? Is it haunted or followed? This thrilling and terrifying film contains stunning imagery and a nightmarish look at the world that would make Hieronymus Bosch feel right at home. Jacob’s ladder is a brilliant film in every way, to be seen more than once after its end that changes everything. It’s a visually and psychologically horrifying film that perfectly deals with the mental aspects of war trauma.


3 Born July 4


Born July 4
Film of universal images

Born July 4 was directed by Vietnam War veteran Oliver Stone, based on The real story by Ron Kovic, who travels to Vietnam as an enthusiastic patriotic volunteer but returns bitter and confused after becoming a paraplegic with loss of sexual function. In one of Tom Cruise’s finest films, Cruise earned his first Oscar nomination for playing Kovac. Her character arc is fascinating; he still stands up for what he believes in, but he changes when he learns he’s been taught a bunch of lies about America, Communism, the Vietnam War, and the so-called domino effect. He is unable to get along with his family upon his return, and there are intense arguments as his mother continues to support the war effort while his younger siblings change their beliefs.

Related: These are the best war movies on Netflix you can stream right now

So Kovic takes a road trip to Mexico where he first seems to find a new identity. He became involved in social change, leading to a disruption at the 1972 Republican Party Convention, where Nixon was easily elected. In one of the most thematically harrowing scenarios, Kovic is also confronted with the fact that he shot one of his own men in a friendly fire situation, where it was not possible to see who is a friend and who is a foe, an apt allegory for a former wartime patriot who now questions America, the military-industrial complex, and who are its true allies and enemies. Kovic finally visits the family of the American he shot to ask for forgiveness, in a powerful scene from a powerful movie.

2 first blood


Sylvester Stallone as Rambo in the Woods in First Blood
Pictures of Orion

In first blood, John Rambo returns home as a vet from badly damaged Vietnam who had been trained to survive, kill, and thrive in all circumstances, like a war machine. When Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo appears in the Midwest looking for his friend from the war, he is despised as a vagabond and troublemaker in a supposedly virtuous crime-free town. After a violent confrontation with bad cops and a painful flashback to Vietnam, he disappears into the woods and the chase is on.

There are dozens of men but only one John Rambo, and when “they have drawn first blood”, he goes to war against the whole town, who realizes they are in over their heads and demands assistance from the federal government. At the end of the film, Rambo gives a heartbreaking speech about how people would spit on him and treat him like garbage after he returns from serving his country. first blood remains one of the best survival films, which has mastered the “one man against many” action trope.


1 Taxi driver


Robert DeNiro smiles with his short mohawk and soldier uniform in Taxi Driver
Pictures of Colombia

Travis Bickle (played to perfection by Robert De Niro) is a dangerous, deranged man whose life descends into the filthy filth of New York’s worst neighborhoods in Martin Scorsese Taxi driver. He is defined by his loneliness and his inability to connect with anyone on a personal level. That he is a returning Vietnam War veteran is only touched upon, such as when he initially applies for his taxi job, but it is the unspoken catalyst for his downward spiral into violence, and there is a silent indication that the scars covering his back are the result of having been physically tortured.

He turns to camouflage, healthier eating, and rigorous exercise in order to transform himself into what he perceives to be a hero of our time. He writes letters to his parents full of lies about the secret work he does for the government. He trains as a warrior and embarks on an assassination attempt that goes awry and leads to one of the most intense killings ever filmed. The film is a heartbreaking exploration of life for people who have returned from Vietnam with PTSD and other issues, and one of cinema’s greatest meditations on deteriorating mental health and violence.

If you or someone you know has PTSD and would like help, you can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs. National PTSD Center.


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