Walking into a critic’s screening creates an unusual juxtaposition of feelings in the pit of your stomach. On the one hand, you’re acutely aware that you’re getting to see a movie months before its release, and as the theater staff usher you off to a screen with a form of pseudo secrecy, it’s easy to feel like you’re kind of a big deal.

But then you reach your seat, and the pomp and circumstance of the situation gives way to the sobering reality that you’re still just you, sitting alone in the dark as strangers mill about around you.

In that way, being a movie critic isn’t that unlike serving in the military.  For many of us, we get so enthralled in the build up, in the training, in a lifestyle that gives you this palpable sense of being, or at least BECOMING, kind of a big deal… but then, once the “thank you’s” for your service subside, and your dress uniform is hung back up in the closet… it’s just you again, alone in the dark.

I walked into the screening for “Thank You For Your Service” just as I would for any other movie, but I’ll admit, a part of me was on guard.  I knew from the trailer that this film had set out to depict the tragedy of veteran struggles with PTSD and suicide, and that’s a subject that is near and dear to my heart.  I’ve lost three friends to suicide over the years.  One was under my direct command.  Just bringing up the subject alone is enough to spur a nauseas remorse… this sense that even if you could have prevented it, the world forgives you out of pity, so you can never really know for sure how much of the blame you assign yourself is warranted, and how much is just still there because guilt can be sticky sometimes.

Miles Teller plays the role of Adam Schumann: a soldier that comes home from a particularly rough deployment struggling to cope with his own guilt.  In his case, its guilt over dropping an injured squad mate as he attempted to evacuate him.  The fall caused a brain injury, severely limiting his friend’s recovery.  Soon thereafter, Schumann is pulled off a patrol by his platoon sergeant – who promptly dies in his place in an attack.

Back home, Schumann and two of his squad mates each struggle to acclimate to normal life again, complete with the awkward passion I’ve rarely seen depicted on-screen between a returning soldier and his wife.  We’re used to seeing heart warming YouTube videos of soldiers coming home, but we never see the awkward silence on the car ride home, as two young adults that have been apart for a formative year of their young lives realize neither of them are quite the same as they were when they last saw each other, and they pray the love between them is enough to bridge that gap in perspective.  Someone I’ve never met said it best on Twitter earlier this week: when you get home, all the things you hoped would change haven’t, and all the things you prayed never would have.

When you’re gone, home isn’t just a place, it’s a narrative full of people who care about you and a life that makes sense.  Such was the case for Schumann, Aieti, and Waller as they returned, already struggling under the weight of the loss and tragedy they experienced downrange.  Like happens to so many veterans, that narrative version of home they’d been clinging to wasn’t waiting for them when they got back, though, and each of them tries to cope with that reality in a different way.