When is too much enough and not enough moreish is the question one takes away from Sebastian Junger’s sequel to his award winning and epoch busting 2010 documentary Restrepo, which he co-directed with recently deceased photographer Tim Hetherington. Battle Company: Korengal (2014) again focuses with a piercing gaze on Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade that were the focus of the previous film. As in the first film, Restrepo refers to the outpost in the Korengal Valley looked upon as the most dangerous posting in Afghanistan, where the soldiers live and fight in spartan conditions with no electricity, running water or internet for up to six months at a time.
The first half of the film seemed to be aiming for a different perspective vis-à-vis masculinity, youth and the inner rage that demands release; but eventually we approach scenes we have seen before (literally, as a lot of this footage was shot at the original time as Restrepo). Over the last few years we’ve been bombarded with similar films (good and bad) that has left the audience jaded and close to bored. Restrepo changed all that, enlightened by focusing on one place and one group of soldiers in an intense closed in situation, it deserved all it’s kudos. This ‘sequel’ seems a step too far though, at the halfway point it seems to lose it’s way and become needlessly repetitive up until that point Junger had made subliminal points that no American would ever make, and that of a moral equivalence within two sides.
Junger looks at his subjects as men and soldiers not through the prism of their nationality. Even at one point he has a soldiers complementing the Taliban for their stealth in the mountain region of the Korengal and their skills as soldiers. When both films really work and Battle Company: Korengal more so than Restrepo is the pared-down deconstruction of soldiers as men (only as men, as Outpost Restrepo is a wholly male environment) awash with what can only learned and earned: that of the idea you are not fighting for a country or a cause but for the individual next to you even if you dislike him, this is the fabled esprit des corps taken to its logical premise. As Junger has said in his book, War: “Combat doesn’t happen because the terrain is important. The terrain becomes important because combat happened there.”
Junger’s concept of a warzone is ultimately what these two films represent, an idea of a space and the events pushed by temporary guests you will fade from history but the Korengal will remain. The Latin phrase “Et in Arcadia ego” will remain with those who lived and fought before and after the events of the two films; within their consciousness (on both sides) will sting the words of the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos in his eulogy for the 300 Spartans (it’s no coincidence that the soldiers have a mural of Spartan iconography at Outpost Restrepo) who died fighting the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC: “Go tell the Spartans, passerby: That here, by Spartan law, we lie.”