There’s no question that those who choose to serve in the military in this day and age should be considered brave, as they are willingly putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of the United States. But bravery and duty to country are not always the prime motivators for military service, something that is one of many interesting aspects of the new Netflix documentary Father Soldier Son.
The film centers on Sgt. Brian Eisch, who, when we meet him in 2010, is an Army Ranger who’s been deployed to Afghanistan on multiple occasions. He has two young sons, Isaac and Joey, who must stay with other relatives when he’s away because their mother is no longer part of the picture. The boys obviously idolize their father, constantly wearing Army gear and pursuing activities like wrestling that he did when he was younger.
When Brian is severely injured in battle in 2011, his return home sets in motion huge changes for him and his kids. Pain from the injury, a lack of mobility, and subsequent weight gain change Brian’s demeanor, although he tries to maintain some positivity. His kids react in different ways to his suffering, although part of that may be that Isaac is experiencing the typical moodiness of a growing teenager.
Directed by reporters-turned-filmmakers Catrin Einhorn and Leslye Davis, the film follows the family over the course of a decade, transitioning from a film about one particular battalion to a film about the long-term effects of service on a military family. Despite his debilitation, Brian has no regrets about going into the army, repeating on multiple occasions the high esteem in which he still holds the military.
Those strong feelings, combined with the adulation his kids have for him, can’t help but influence how Isaac and Joey feel about the military, too. Joey is more gung-ho about serving when he gets older, but Isaac still has designs on going to college if possible. However, the two kids’ decisions about whether to go into the military is about more than just familial pride.
The family moves from Wisconsin to New York at some point between 2011 and 2014, a change likely made to put Brian in closer proximity to the medical care he needs, though the film never explicitly says that. What’s clear, though, is that Brian’s inability to work is a detriment to both the financial and social well-being of the family. Einhorn and Davis don’t focus on it, but it is implied that military service may well be one of the only viable options for both kids when they leave school.
The documentary is full of emotion, including the early reunions of Brian and his kids, the fallout from Brian’s injuries, and more. No matter whether a particular viewer is a proponent of the military or not, the tight-knit nature of the family draws the viewer in, especially when they experience hard times.
At the same time, though, the hold the military has on this particular family is inescapable. While careful never to pass judgment on their decisions, the film does shine a light on choices that not everyone would make. The film is not overtly political, but one’s political leanings might influence how you view its messages overall.
Again, military service is not for everyone, so the fact that someone like Brian Eisch has sacrificed so much in the name of an ideal is humbling. Father Soldier Son is a compelling portrait of what that sacrifice looks like, and the impact it has on those closest to the person who gave so much.
Father Soldier Son debuts on Netflix on July 17.