Don’t be deterred by the grim subject matter. Resurface is a joyful piece of life affirming cinema.
For the modern soldier, going to war mightn’t be as dangerous as coming home again. Suicide has claimed the lives of more American soldiers than recent wars in the Middle East, and the problem is mirrored in Australia. By the time you finish this review, boot up the Netflix and watch Resurface — a new documentary about ocean therapy — another soldier will have taken their own life.
We see ex-Marine Bobby Lane in his home. He doesn’t so much have a medicine cabinet as a medicine closet. “I have to take this one to counteract what this one does,” he says, gesturing to innumerable orange bottles of pills. “And this one? I don’t even know what it does”. While serving in Iraq Bobby suffered two traumatic brain injuries. He came back to the states, became an alcoholic, homeless, and started taking the aforementioned cocktail of prescription drugs. He drew up a bucket list, and decided to end his life. Thankfully, the last item on that bucket list was surfing, and that experience was enough to convince Bobby that life was worth living — if only so he could go surfing again.
Resurface documents Operation Surf, a company which gives long boarding lessons to returned soldiers. Bobby’s experience isn’t unique — we see dozens of battered servicemen and women rejuvenated by the ocean. One soldier speaks of refusing further surgeries because they may interfere with his technique. Another man — who is without legs — raises himself up into a handstand whilst catching a wave.
The highlight of the film comes when a fellow who can neither see nor hear — and has had to walk into the ocean with two aids and a cane — succeeds in popping up on his board. If you can stifle tears, you are a coarser person than I.
At a curt 27 minute running time, there’s not much room for nuance in Resurface. We don’t know how these people feel about, say, the military, or their country, or if Operation Surf is ineffective for anybody. Resurface is, basically, a half hour, feel good infomercial for surfing. But if it is functionally an advertisement, it is at very least a good advertisement. You want what they’re selling. Resurface was shot by two young filmmakers on a shoestring budget, funded on kickstarter, and they’ve done a wonderful job with the available resources.
Ocean therapy, we are told, isn’t some hippy dippy mumbo jumbo — it generates the dopamine in analogue which doctors are so eager to proscribe in pill form. The brain is a pharmacy, as one interviewee puts it. One begins to see why surfing might be especially effective for ex-military personnel; the best qualities drilled into these soldiers — discipline, endurance, camaraderie — are given a new chance to flourish in the sea. One begins to pity those poor souls who live in a landlocked state.
Professional good practice dictates that, because of the above references to self harm, the phone number for Lifeline be stamped at the bottom of this review. If anything here has distressed you, do give them a call — but maybe organise a surfing lesson too.
(Unless it was the surfing content which caused the distress, in which case skip the surfing lessons and beware this beautiful documentary).
If you need support or information about suicide prevention, contact Lifeline: 13 11 14