In Harm's Way, A Portrait of Grief: Jerabek

How does a family come to terms with the loss of a beloved son/brother/grandson in Iraq, even as another one of its own considers enlisting in the Marines to potentially suffer the same fate?

This is the situation presented in Jerabek, a closely-observed story that chronicles a Green Bay, Wisconsin family, the Jerabeks, and their loss of Ryan in an insurgent attack in Ramadi, Iraq on April 6, 2004. Director Civia Tamarkin tells Ryan's story through interviews with his family, friends and fellow Marines over the course of two years.

Ryan eagerly signed up for the Marines after high school and appeared to have a new-found confidence and sense of self. His mother, a nurse, and father, a Vietnam vet, were worried but proud. We know how this bleak story ends within the first few minutes of the film: Ryan volunteers to go out on a patrol in Ramadi and loses his life in an attack for which his squad commander readily acknowledges the battalion was ill-prepared.

Piling on their grief, the Jerabek's youngest son Nick contemplates joining the Marines and heading to Iraq. It's an unbearable situation for the family and their sense of loss and disillusionment intensifies as Nick makes his decision in the fall of 2006 to join up. When his step-brother asks Nick what he thinks their mother is thinking, Nick says, "It's hard to know what mom's really thinking." Throughout the film, Mom hovers on the verge of tears: "I'm proud of you but I'm really scared. I'm just going to be worried." What mother wouldn't be?

Dad, who knows a thing or two about the fog of war says, "When he [Ryan] joined the Marine Corp. I knew he was in trouble. What do you do as a father?" Indeed. The Jerabeks appear to be supportive, loving and deeply proud parents who have given their kids the space and time to come to their own conclusions. Even after the loss of Ryan, they don't push their youngest son.

Jerabek is a haunting account of one family's grief and pain over a tragic loss but it is also very likely the story of more than 3,000 families in the U.S. who were powerless to prevent their sons and daughters from going off to war. To date more than 3,350 U.S. lives have been lost in Iraq.

Tamarkin, a freelance journalist who covered the Vietnam War, said she wanted to document the human cost of the war in Iraq and to explore "what is it like to suffer such loss and grief when everyone around you is indifferent."

Unfortunately, Tamarkin doesn't train her lens on the indifference. Perhaps she will leave that to another film. In the Jerabeks' close-knit middle America community, it is unlikely there is much indifference. But we don't really know because the film focuses intensely on grief and loss and not on the political issues.

This writer would like to hear more about the indifference.

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