Medic Returns From Afghanistan To Broken Family In 'Bliss'
WADE GOODWYN, HOST:
Fort Bliss is set in the sprawling desert outside of El Paso. It is the Army's second largest post. It is also the title of writer and director Claudia Myers' new movie. "Fort Bliss" is the story a young Staff Sergeant, a medic, who comes home from her second tour of duty in Afghanistan with a bronze star. But when she gets back to Fort Bliss after a 15-month tour, her 5-year-old son wants nothing to do with her. The movie is about Sergeant Maggie Swan's quest to hang on to her son and her career in the U.S. Army. Claudia Myers is here in the studio. Thanks for coming in.
CLAUDIA MYERS: Thank you for having me.
GOODWYN: Claudia, where'd this movie come from?
MYERS: Well, I had done some work with the Army previously, actually doing a training film which I shot at Fort Bliss. But in the process doing focus groups with soldiers, I met an infantry sergeant who was a single father. He had been deployed a couple of times. When I asked what he did with his son while he was away, he said he left him with the neighbors. And it just made me realize that I'd been very sheltered, I think, from a whole other aspect of the war that I didn't understand, hadn't thought about and I felt like there was a story there to be told.
GOODWYN: The movie opens with an American convoy on patrol coming under attack. The lead character, which is a medic played by Michelle Monaghan, runs to help an injured soldier. One of the things you come away with is just how gung ho Maggie is. But when she gets back home, she's really faced with a domestic situation that is quite fractured. Her husband's divorced her. He's already starting a family with a new woman and her 5-year-old son runs into the arms of his girlfriend and calls her mommy.
MYERS: I think what the film tries to show at the opening is that there's a tension between how good she is as a soldier and how ill-equipped she is a mother when she comes back. She's out of practice. And part of her journey, in fact, is to relearn how to be a mother to her child.
GOODWYN: She confronts her ex-husband, accusing him of turning Paul against her and he's trying to explain what's been going on with them since she's been gone. Let's play a little bit of this.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FORT BLISS")
RON LIVINGSTON: (As Richard) He started walking around here with his eyes open and the doctor said he was - he was asleep.
MICHELLE MONAGHAN: (As Maggie Swan) But where did he go?
LIVINGSTON: (As Richard) Go everywhere. He'd go in here, walked into the closet and pissed on my shoes once, tried to go outside a couple of times. Probably looking for his mother, wasn't looking for me. I didn't know how to handle him either. You know who did a good job is Alma. You should be grateful to her. Turned him back into a happy kid again.
GOODWYN: She's pretty pigheaded. She wants both the Army and her son.
MYERS: Right. And the question is shouldn't she be able to have that, or is that something that, you know - or should she have to choose? And I guess the story really more than anything I think is meant to, you know, raise questions.
GOODWYN: This man's Army is really no longer this man's army. There are a lot of soldiers like Sergeant Maggie Swan - women who leave their loved ones behind to fight and in their wake leave sadness and turmoil. And, you know, if they're men, we understand better, you know, if not honor their sacrifice to serve the country. But women, we're not really quite sure how to think of that.
MYERS: Yeah, that's absolutely right. And I think that's what I wanted to explore is if she's viewed differently as a mother leaving her child and a medic and a soldier as she would be if she were a father? The film is trying to present a situation in which there are no easy answers. And by the same token, it's a situation where there are no real bad guys. There are people basically people all trying to the best they can in a difficult situation. You know, for example, in the clip you played earlier, Ron Livingston is sort of that other side of the story. I mean, he makes some really valid arguments. You know, I wanted to try and give him, you know, a voice in the film too as the spouse that's left behind.
GOODWYN: How's the Army feel about your movie?
MYERS: I knew we needed the Army's support. I knew they supported productions. There's a whole approval process that we had to go through. The Army - when you get Army approval, they can provide some logistical support. And so we were able to film at Fort Bliss. They did help provide some vehicles and the subject matter experts, of course, to, you know, to make sure that things looked right to them, which is also in everyone's interest of course.
GOODWYN: Did they help with money?
MYERS: No they did not.
GOODWYN: I won't give away the ending, but it has a fairly happy ending. Are you by nature optimistic?
MYERS: I'd like to think that there is - that we articulate meaning through change in stories and that the character has evolved. I felt like I knew that I was on the right track when I didn't know in advance how I was going to resolve the situation. I felt like I'd really given the character a real dilemma. And I, as a writer, struggled with it for a good while until I found what I felt was the right balance and was satisfying. And I think that's what I was going for.
GOODWYN: Claudia Myers is the writer and director of "Fort Bliss," a quiet film about America's Army that pulls no punches. It opens in theaters next week. Claudia, congratulations.
MYERS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.