Brothers (窒愛) is a movie about post-war trauma and sibling rivalry. Released in 2009, it tells a powerful story of two opposite brothers, Captain Sam Cahill (starring Tobey Maguire) and his younger brother, Tommy Cahill (starring Jake Gyllenhaal). Sam marries his high school sweetheart, Grace (starring Natalie Portman), with whom he has two young daughters. In the eyes of his family and colleagues, he is a respectable hero, dutifully serving his family and country, In contrast, Tommy is a drifter on parole, found guilty of robbing a bank. In a military mission in Afghanistan, Sam’s plane crashes and he is supposed dead although his body is missing. The black-sheep brother then takes on the duty to care for his family. As Grace has a deeper contact with Tommy, she becomes sympathetic with him, for she finds that lying under his degraded behavior is the sense of inferiority. Later, Sam miraculously returns from the battlefield, but he is totally changed. He is irascible and aloof, always finding fault with his family and suspecting the adultery between his wife and brother. After a fierce conflict with them, he is sent to a mental hospital. The hope of reconciliation emerges after he confesses to his wife that he has killed his comrade in Afghanistan to come back to her.
The story triggers two issues to ponder: one is about the trauma of a war hero; the other is about the impact of family violence. American culture upholds the qualities of a war hero, who is identified as a superman with perseverance and strength. But in most cases, the trauma inflicted on him is ignored. The American society rewards and honors the war hero in that he sacrifices himself for his country. Those that are physically hurt by enemies, say, getting his arms or legs maimed in battle are entitled to the medal of Purple Heart, which grants them certain privileges. But how about those suffering inside without any visible scar? No reward of course, since mental illness is a sign of weakness in American culture. Brothers brings forth this issue, implying how deep the trauma cuts into a family. The forced murdering of his comrade torments Sam, driving him to self-destruction as a payment for his sin. Only unconditional and forgiving love from his family is the sole source of his redemption.
The other issue touched by this film is family violence. The two brothers’ father also serves in the army, inculcating in his sons the value of sacrifice and honor since their childhood. Such a strict and moral father, however, has his dark side. When he is drunk, he inflicts violence on his family, especially his wife. The younger son is also a victim suffering from his verbal violence. He keeps negating his existence by heaping scorn on his behavior. The black sheep son is thus generated! The two brothers, in a sense, rebel against the violent father in different ways. The elder excels in his career to outshine his father, while the younger sinks into a pit to infuriate his father. Both have a constrained existence.
Overall, Brothers highlights the values of an American family. Although a site of conflict, a family is still a source of redemption. It may well be considered a place of “re” ---return, reunion, reconnect, and reconcile. All the hustle and bustle of outside world can be shut outside the door, with the warmth of the glimmering hearth rekindling the love of each family member.