Post-War Postponed: War without End, the Returning Soldier in American Cinema, and the Gendered Representation of Trauma


  • Anthony Grajeda


The U.S. war society constructed in the wake of 9/11 has been given to endless war on a global scale. This state of permanent conflict effectively prevents the nation from entering a “post-war” period, one that would allow for national reflection and a collective coming to terms with the aftermath of war. The inconclusiveness of 21st Century warfare delays then the possibility for understanding such wars, which in turn inhibits the work of mourning that would confer some meaning on the loss of life. This essay considers a number of recent American films that take as their subject matter the grieving process during rather than after war. These films that feature returning veterans struggling with physical or psychic trauma provide popular representations of post-traumatic stress disorder, the accuracy of which is shaped in part by questions of gender. Here the discussion focuses on the differentiation of sacrifice and suffering by female veterans on screen, suggesting how such representations align with the gendered division of military labor itself. From a critical cultural studies perspective, this essay argues that, by defying conventional narrative cinema with unsatisfying, ambiguous endings, such films appear symptomatic of the inconclusive nature of American wars.