Lebanon is claustrophobic; it is the Army’s Das Boot. The entire film is shot from within a single tank. About 75% of the time, the audience sees the four men inside of the tank and the other quarter is the view from the gunner’s camera. The driver, weapon’s loader, and tank commander may sometimes feel envious that the gunner gets such a good view, but the film lets the audience know the gunner is the unlucky one. He witnesses the effects of the 1982 Lebanese war on both militants and innocent civilians who get caught in the crossfire of the Israeli and Lebanese bullets.
The crew of this single Israeli tank has a very myopic view of the war; they have no bigger picture of their place in maneuvers of their small platoon respective to the rest of the Israeli advance into southern Lebanon. They also may be the worst trained armor soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force. The concepts of chain of command, military bearing, and following orders appear to be words on paper to them rather than engrained truths. It is never clearly stated if they are regulars or hastily called up reserves, but perhaps the situations they are forced to endure and their complete lack of vision and understanding would call into question any tank crew’s abilities.
The tank’s gunner has never fired his weapons in a violent setting prior to the war’s outset on June 6, 1982. His first chance to fire upon the enemy and protect the lives of the dismounted patrol next to his tank does not go well. Sweat pours down his forehead and his shaking hands are reluctant to follow through even though it becomes clear the oncoming vehicle means harm to his fellow soldiers. To make up for his mistake, the next truck to come down the road bears the brunt of the gunner’s attempt for repentance, be it an enemy or an innocent farmer.
Not helping the gunner’s attempts to do his job is the incessant squabbling between the tank commander and the weapon’s loader. These two men obviously know one another from their day jobs and the command structure does not seem to apply to their interactions because the loader constantly questions the commander’s orders thereby undermining his authority. The commander does no favors for himself or his crew by looking unsure of himself and his situation.
The most effective and memorable scenes are those from the gunner’s camera of the war’s destruction. There are mutilated bodies in buildings and along the road side. There is a screaming mother asking the soldiers about her daughter even though everyone knows the daughter is dead upstairs in a building. The single view from the gunner’s camera of the outside world creates a fog of war so thick for the crew a breakdown is almost inevitable. The tank becomes absolutely filthy, oil leaks from every porous rivet, and the floor is covered in a junk yard of refuse and filth making the viewers relieved they do not have to smell the inside of that tank.
I highly recommend this film. To fans of war movies, their pre-conceived ideas of what a war movie is will be shaken by the events happening through the gunner’s camera. Overall, I hope audiences take away ideas that war does not produce the objectives their politicians claim it will and even though a particular culture or ethnicity has been deemed evil by your society, they will look particularly vulnerable and more like yourself than you can imagine when seen getting annihilated through a camera.