‘From Shock to Awe ‘— one of the best docs in years—follows veterans treating crippling PTSD with psychedelics
Last night, I sneaked into the NYC premiere of the film From Shock to Awe, a documentary about Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans crippled by PTSD who turn to Ayahuasca and MDMA-based therapies for relief. It was absolutely impossible to stop weeping throughout the screening of this film. This was a universal among the audience. The filmmakers themselves claim that they can’t watch their own footage without crying. After seeing it, that’s not hard to believe.
The film played a straight story: Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, crushed by their experiences of chaos, kill themselves at a rate of over twenty per day. More American servicepeople die at home rather than abroad, and they do so by their own hand. It is a sad true story. This film looks at families destroyed by the violence of the 2000s wars. The film does so not through any external narration, save for a few title cards. Rather, it is merely men and women sharing their stories. They are all desperate and broken.
One vet opened a cabinet in his bathroom, no room for toiletries — only pills. Easily 40 bottles. We hear a vet say that they were on 90 different medications over the course of four years. We see footage of them in an opioid haze. We hear about how driving down the road is almost impossible because they are always on the lookout for an IED. We watch people weep about the deadness they feel inside themselves, and how they fear for their children.
But the film was no slog. From Shock to Awe was more of a relief if anything else. To the filmmakers credit, it absolutely connected with an issue facing all Americans who lived through the Shock and Awe Bush wars — the additional failures of medicine, pharmacology, therapy, and the whole mental health sector of the United States in treating people who are suffering.
The film is wonderfully humane in how it approaches the sensitivity of this topic. With absolute care, the documentary explores the living burdens of the vets and their need for profound relief. And that no such relief or therapy seems to exist, outside of medical cannabis which they describe as more a “filter” than a curative.
Enter ayahuasca. We then watch several days of ayahuasca therapy — and the vets transform. The film is in fact very much a study of faces, and, as a viewer, it is impossible to resist feeling like you are joined in their emotional journey. We see these faces that were gray, weeping, and doomed absolutely about change. There was one moment where a vet said that their smile felt like the sun. It was remarkable to say the least.
The film makes good on its claim: ‘A Journey of Hope and Transformation.’ In fact it nails it. At the end, I felt like it deserved to be screened before Congress, and that of all the problems, this mental wellbeing of our vets should be central to the national dialogue.
I absolutely recommend this film for everyone. This film is tastefully free of any psychedelic visuals; it is simply an exquisite tale about people processing pain, and, in watching it, it is seemly impossible not to process that pain along with them. Total victory. Everyone cried. It was incredible.