SILAS is an upcoming short-film project of ours that explores the psychological aspects of soldiers of war returning from the battlefield. It aims to explore the estranged and intertwined nature of our psychological existence – that soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might be well documented enough, but the response of society to these incidents can speak volumes on the attitude of the citizens away from the trenches. Although I don’t wish to idolize war in any certain terms, it’s rather curious to notice how conflict can produce clarity and physical combat (or the futility of it) can make for some of most succinct works of art ever.
I still remember the first time I read Wilfred Owen’s poetry and his experience in the trenches of the Somme. If forced to pick, my favorite Wilfred Owen poem would be ‘Strange Meetings.’ The opening discharge of the poem are especially dread inducing, and it completely flipped the architecture of my brain upside down when it came to things like national pride and honour. To be more specific, the poem starts with Dante’s vision of hellfire to which the deceased soldier (in this case, Owen himself) finds himself to be in.Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped Through granites which titanic wars have groined. Yet also there embraced sleepers groaned, Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred. Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared With piteous recognition in fixed eyes, Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless. And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,- By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
But Owen was smart enough to know that it wasn’t hellfire that the troops in the trenches dreaded. The real purgatory here was the planet earth that they found themselves in. At one point in 1917, there seemed to be no end to the cruel disposition the soldiers found themselves. This puts them in a state of permanent limbo. Thus the point of meeting their doppelganger – or their fellow humans from the other side and having no end in sight of their misery. It’s one thing to be damned in hell and resign to the notion of eternal physical torture. It’s another to meet the fellow you shot and endure the psychological implications…forever.“I am the enemy you killed, my friend. I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed. I parried; but my hands were loath and cold. Let us sleep now. . . .”
And thus on this note of the psychological implications of war on soldiers, my next few entries will be essays and reflections on the theme of conflict, confrontation, and unintended consequences. SILAS too is partly an exploration of that. I’ll keep you updated with the film, but for the time being, I hope that the series of essays to follow will provide you with a slither of amusement and maybe a bit of information.