Referencing to the caller’s friend who died in a war in front of him, Maureen, the responder, asks,
“Tell me what he would say if he knew what you were going through… if he knew you were contemplating suicide?”
“He’d kick your ass. Okay.”
These two lines of conversation between a veteran opening up to a responder from the Crisis Hotline number for veterans in the US stand out from and stand for the 40-minute documentary that is Crisis Hotline Veterans Press 1. It is isn’t just the response that struck me hard, it is the realisation that a reference to an ass might just have opened up the person on the verge of suicide enough for Maureen to assume control. The smallest of margins for the heaviest of wrecks, and the weakest of links battling the strongest of memories and urges, that’s all that lies between the obvious extremities of suicide.
In its cinematic spec, the short documentary is about some Alfonso Cuaron-esque long continuous shots of lengthy strenuous phone calls reflecting the gaps between stubborn and vulnerable in a human mind. It brings that tension from the call center to screen with perfection and in doing that, makes us aware of a less defined and a further less inquired strata of mental issues.
Crisis Hotline is more documentary than most documentaries in the sense that it neither overestimates its demand nor undervalues its issue. It treats it with the delicacy it deserves meanwhile remains stiff like the very manner real-life deals with the treatment of veterans. In doing so, it creates a cloud of thought that the men considered the most men, who have seen and experienced war, violence and destruction in their life, also fall prey to mental diseases. It shatters the very opposite public notion against mental problems – an insensitive agenda which fails to spot its own hypocrisy.
In what war historians could call the epilogue of Band of Brothers, Crisis Hotline is sad and satisfying – the two not complimentary. While it brought awareness like documentaries do, it also played with perspective – like documentaries should do. We see the encounters from the eyes of the responders, who talk and text and coordinate and sweat as they try to build trust in their negotiation of a life. It takes a psychological toll on both the parties, one not substituted but still compensated.
The only technical conflict with the 40-minute documentary is that it probably Americanized the issue a bit more than it rightfully should have – something that even Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was criticized for back in the day. American flag both at the start and end of the movie somehow makes the issue less global in approach than it is. While it does deal with the very specific United States Department of Veterans Affairs suicide hotline office in New York, it still manages to make it marginally more about a self-obsessed nation than it had the right to.
Dana Heinz Perry does the most significant work of her life, apart from Boy Interrupted, alongside the very talented Ellen Goosenberg Kent. The two women assume responsibility of the issue as their own, knowing that the voice they have prepared for mass communication might be the only representation it receives in an otherwise barren legacy of its art.
It has less cinematic tools than most, and it is not even a thrill ride to take you by its emotional impact. It’s raw, and it might most certainly not improve your understanding of cinema. But because its raw and because its true, it is like that one vaccination you need to have. An experience that adds to the immunity of your sub-conscience as your conscience, intentionally so, fails to think about it twice in the better part of your life left over.
– Mayank Malik