When thinking back on the experience of watching Father Soldier Son, I remember feeling as though I was an intruder in this family's life. The documentary follows a single father in the US, raising his two young boys while serving in Afghanistan for the United States military. With an extensive amount of footage edited together, the film flows through time like Richard Linklater's Boyhood. There is no understating the impact that this documentary has, as this is just one family going through life a day at a time, for better and worse.
It is an undeniable feat that filmmakers Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn gathered this extensive amount of footage and sequenced these moments into vignettes of military life and beyond. Father Soldier Son is an affecting and hopeful narrative, groundbreaking in its realism and genuine in its execution.
We first meet Sgt. First Class Brian Eisch as he returns home from Afghanistan. His 12-year-old son Isaac is incredibly excited to see his father, shown in a beautiful scene of Brian walking out of the flight's gate, tackled by a relieved Isaac, and melting with relief. 9-year-old Joey, on the other hand, is equally as excited but not yet adept at understanding or communicating his feelings entirely. We get to know the Eisch's in the comfort of their home before Brian has to leave overseas again.
In one of Brian's first interviews, he notes his fear of getting injured while serving. His most vivid concern is seeing soldiers change in personality, patience, and demeanor with their families after an injury brings them home. He knows it's a possibility, and we see the fear in his eyes. In stark contrast, Isaac's and Joey's early interviews illuminate the residual effects military life can have on family members. They know their dad could be injured overseas, but their pride and admiration for their father give them hope. Fortunately, Brian is surrounded by a loving community, who provide him and his family support during his next tour in Afghanistan.
But Brian returns home early after sustaining a bullet wound to his leg after he attempted to save a local man in the street. He was pulled to safety by a medic and returned home to endure what will be years of rehabilitation as his fears for his family start to materialize. Life changes immediately for the Eisch's as his condition worsens and his kids endeavor to help him at every step.
As we move through the lives of Isaac and Joey, they quietly age before our eyes. Brian does everything in his power to resume his life as if it were normal, but the family could not have seen the direction their lives would go. The documentary is at its most intense when Brian's faith is tested over and again. We get to see Brian fall in love and extend their family to Brady Bunch numbers, though his healing process is ongoing. Isaac feels he must look after his father, and Joey attempts to make his father proud with wrestling and military aspirations. We see the ebb and flow of how life throws this family punches, and they continue to stand tall, carrying the past on their shoulders and never forgetting who they are.
There's no understating that the storytelling in this documentary is a revelation. Davis and Einhorn have been able to construct a coherent, affecting, and ageless story. Considering what happens to this family, I can only imagine how hard it was for the filmmakers to endure this family's emotional strain. Amy Foote's editing manages to keep the story moving forward, with no episode overstaying its welcome. Lives are racing ahead, and there is always more story unfolding. It's like an orchestration of small home movies, and Davis and Einhorn are the brave conductors documenting this family's most precious, exposing moments.
When I think of my family, there is pain and hurt mixed in humor and adventure. We have found growth in tragedy and connection through our experience. Every year we improve, separately and together. We open more to conversations that were difficult to approach as we learn more about each other and contextualize our upbringing with how our lives are unfolding. It is a lesson in patience, humility, accepting, and forging ahead.
When human interaction is limited, I encourage you to spend some with the Eisch's. Then call your family and cherish the time you can speak to each other.
Now available to stream on Netflix.