That day, VanDyke is driven to the airport by his mother, with his understandably sulky girlfriend riding beside him, to fly out to Egypt and from there to make his way into the war zone and join a now slightly-less-hippy-looking Nuri. VanDyke is captured and imprisoned for six months. Upon being freed, he puts on the uniform once more and now participates in the fighting alongside his Libyan friends. Here the omnipresent camera is joined by all those mobile phones and VanDyke himself becomes a bit sniffy about it. ‘Everyone wants a picture they can put on Facebook,’ he says, which is a bit rich coming from the narcissist who is constantly preening and posing. The temptation is to read these misadventures as a larger symbol for the war tourism of American foreign policy over the last decade and a half. His blithely under-informed intervention is more about the thrill of doing something and self-realisation as a Rambo-esque warrior than any real belief in the cause.
Politics go unmentioned. It’s about protecting his new found buddies, as if the Libyans were basically Ewoks. It’s also a kind of therapy for his OCD. VanDyke is willing to kill people and risk his life, but freaks out about sharing cutlery and when someone spills sugar in his war truck. Too many of his arguments and justifications go unchallenged, as is the danger when the subject of your documentary is also a producer and for the most part cameraman – he’s credited, with no small amount of grandiosity, as ‘cinematographer’. The one question director Marshall Curry keeps until the end – "did you actually kill anyone?" – feels beside the point and a sly attempt to exonerate VanDyke from the nitty-gritty consequences of what he was doing. An undoubtedly unintended and unwanted context has been provided by the Paris shootings. Here are other civilians of Western democracies who are also influenced by the media, filming little video diaries of themselves and are also finding self-expression, resolving their masculinity through violence. But they don’t have OCD.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty