Father Soldier Son is a remarkable documentary about a remarkable family. Directorial duo Catrin Einhorn and Leslye Davis, two New York Times journalists, originally commenced their project in 2010 with the intention of chronicling the effects of military service on one family. Ten years later, Einhorn and Davis’ initial story has evolved into a powerful Netflix film that makes for poignant viewing.
The film focuses on the family of Brian Eisch, the single father of Isaac and Joey, deployed to Afghanistan. Early on in the film, Brian makes a candid confession. “You know what my biggest fear is? Isaac says he’s got a buddy at school, that his dad went to Iraq, and he changed. I don’t want to be that dad”. However, when Brian returns home after being shot, things do change profoundly for the family. Over the years, the Eischs experience happiness, heartrbreak and, through all the immeasurable hardship, hope and redemption.
Einhorn and Davis’ film flows with resonant moments. Brian is shown repeatedly immersed in a violent, war-based video game. Joey tearfully struggles in frustration during his wrestling competition. Poignantly, the teenage Isaac grapples with the profound changes in his father and their home life: “Sacrificing yourself to go fight a war for your country is definitely a noble cause. But, at the same time, I’m not sure his injuries for the rest of his life were worth it at all”.
In a recent New York Times retrospective, Einhorn has voiced the motivation behind the commitment to the Eischs. “We stuck with the story because we simply had to…It kept going in so many surprising directions”. Indeed, the twists, turns and triumphs in the Eisch story are akin to what we might experience from a fictional narrative film. The effect is reinforced further by the condensing of 10 years into the film’s 100 minute running time. As a story, it could be something out of Hollywood. Yet, the tragedies that befall the family are not industry-required plot-points. The better times are not insertions from studio executives eager for a more upbeat tone. This is all real life. And, as viewers, we're there first-hand.
In the film’s opening segment, Brian, straight off the plane, has a reunion with Joey and Isaac on his return home from Afghanistan. Largely due to YouTube, scenes of emotional reunions between soldiers and their loved ones have become a familiar favourite on screens. Yet, there is something exceptionally touching when we are given our first shot of a Eisch family reunion. Is it because Brian is a single father to the two boys? Is it the fact that everyone around them warmly erupts in applause? In retrospect, the scene takes on greater significance. A even tougher journey, and separation, lie ahead. Here, Brian is in his prime. Another time, things will be very different.
Father Soldier Son is an exceptional documentary, not only for the story behind its production, but for its unique, intimate portrait of an American family. Einhorn and Davis are to be applauded. And, once more, so are the Eischs.