"Father Soldier Son," a documentary from Netflix and The New York Times, follows Army Ranger Brian Eisch and his family over a decade as he deploys to Afghanistan in 2010 and later learns to deal with the fallout from his mission.
The film was conceived as a chronicle of Eisch's battalion over a year in Afghanistan, but the filmmakers changed their focus once they spent time with Eisch and his family -- and the Ranger suffered a severe injury to his leg after he was shot on a rescue mission during combat.
Brian's sons, Isaac and Joey, must've been a huge part of the attraction for filmmakers, award-winning New York Times journalists Catrin Einhorn and Leslye Davis. They spent a lot of time filming the boys before their father was injured (both before and during deployment), and the foundations for the film they chose to make were already in place.
Here's some good news about "Father Soldier Son." Einhorn and Davis don't make Eisch and his sons into stand-ins for all military families. If their story is universal, it's universal because it chronicles the kind of challenges that all families face. Brian Eisch is one man, and the film lets itself be about his struggles and successes.
Eisch was a divorced single father who left his sons with his family in upper New York state while he served in Afghanistan. He has conflicted feelings about continuing his career as a single father but chooses to continue his service.
"Father Soldier Son" then settles into Eisch's recovery and relationship with his sons. There are successes: Brian falls in love and marries a woman named Maria who has two adult children and raises a third child along with Brian. There are also challenges: After several years of unbearable pain, Eisch chooses to have one leg amputated below the knee.
No one could have anticipated the other events that befall the Eisch family when everyone agreed to make this film. Writing about what happens over the course of the film's second half would reduce its impact for viewers. As most of us have learned, life can't be planned and no one has any idea what's going to happen tomorrow or next year.
There's both joy and sorrow in the family as the years go by. As they grow, Eisch's sons talk about their feelings about their father's service and whether they want to follow his path to the Army. Growing up without his biological mother eventually weighs on Isaac, and he has to make tough decisions as he finishes high school and faces his adult life.
There's a lot to think about after you watch "Father Soldier Son." Who should be asked to deploy to fight our wars? Should our soldiers be given a clear sense of their mission or is it OK just to ask them to fight for the guy next to them in combat? Most hauntingly, how can we really plan for the future? Shouldn't we concentrate more on today than tomorrow?
Obviously, this movie lands differently than it would have just a few months ago. In a year filled with so much fear, uncertainty and doubt, these questions demand a bit more thought as we imagine our lives going forward.
Thanks to Brian Eisch for choosing to share his life with all of us. Here's hoping his family finds peace and prosperity for the rest of their lives after they've suffered more than anyone's share of pain.
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