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Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ takes a hard look at Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder like few other war films do

According to a 2019 report, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs found 17 percent of the three million American service members who served in Vietnam (roughly 510,000 men) suffer from PTSD

Spoilers for ‘Da 5 Bloods’

Spike Lee’s Netflix film ‘Da 5 Bloods’ revolves around four African-American Vietnam War veterans as they return to the country, more than 40 years after the war is over. But it’s no ordinary trip. They are there to find the body of their old platoon leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), who was killed in action during the war, and also to find a trunk full of solid gold bars they had hidden in the jungles. 

Delroy Lindo as Paul, Clarke Peters as Otis, Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Melvin, and Norm Lewis as Eddie, are joined by Jonathan Majors as David, Paul’s son. The film switches between the present day adventure and 1968, at the height of the Vietnam war. 

The film takes a hard look at many things. One of which is the cost of war and the toll it takes on people. Paul, a Trump-supporting black man, who harbors racist ideas about the Vietnamese (and all South-East Asians for that matter; he uses the derogatory term “g***” on them), and has disturbing ideas about immigrants in America, has many problems. The war took a toll on him. So much so, that even more than four decades later, he is not okay. He suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has regular nightmares.

According to a 2019 report, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs found that 17 percent of the three million American service members who served in Vietnam (roughly 510,000 men) went on to suffer from PTSD. The report added that divorce, suicide, substance abuse, and criminal conduct were the effects of this mental ailment. 

For Paul, it came in the form of seeing the ghost of Norman every night. It also came in the form of not being able to love his son David, who always felt neglected by the man. It also came in the form of untamable anger, irritability, and knee-jerk reactions. Not to mention, a certain amount of paranoia. 

It is Paul’s PTSD that makes for a significant and heartbreaking part of the story. It is his guilt of maiming thousands of Vietnamese people. It is his guilt of accidentally killing Norman while under fire. All of this adds up to how he reacts in the present.

Paul is a good man led astray by the cruelties of war. And that is what takes his sanity away from him, and ultimately his life. But it’s not Paul alone who suffers. Both Otis and Melvin regularly take medication to keep their minds. All of them are taken back to the horrors of war in a moment’s notice. 

One scene is particularly emblematic of that. When they leave a bar in Hanoi, a beggar who was earlier badgering them for alms throws a firecracker at their feet. As the cracker bursts multiple times, all four duck down and take cover, almost as if they were reacting to enemy fire.

Another good reminder about the cost of war this movie makes is in the form of the Vietnamese men and women there. Almost all of the characters who have screen time share their tales of war. Even if they weren’t there for it, they tell of how it ruined their families back in the 60s and the 70s. 

Few war films examine this. 2009’s ‘Brothers’ starring Toby Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal is an exception to that rule. And as we can see, so is ‘Da 5 Bloods’. This is one of the many things that sets it apart from other war films. The examination of the price ordinary men pay for the whims of political leaders, the long-term effects of it, and the unflinching shunning of the idea of valor is what makes ‘Da 5 Bloods’ worthy of a watch. 

‘Da 5 Bloods’ is available for viewing on Netflix.