Picture this: a desolate, sandy Middle Eastern desert at dawn. The sound of a helicopter flying above resonates in the theater. This documentary would feature the real terror soldiers experience from a smell oriented perspective. This movie would be based off of Beau Friedlander’s article in Harper’s magazine A Brief History of Scent. It would be an exposé of how scent is in fact a true and prominent contributing factor to post traumatic stress disorder in veterans.
One might ask how a movie can be centered around scent if movies are typically visual and audio oriented? Well, through intense graphics of traumatic army experiences paired with emotional sounds and actors who are able to explicate the effect certain smells have on their experiences, viewers of this film will be able to understand and perhaps vicariously experience the detrimental effect smells have on a soldier’s psyche.
The main focus of this film would be how soldiers experience the everlasting smell of death. The film would use Friedlander’s claims that the scent of death and injury comes in many forms—notably the smell of an exploded body cavity or a decaying body. Scenes of film would be gruesome while showing how eminent scent is in these situations while we may not realize it. Think about it: if you watched a fellow soldier’s body decay, you would of course have a distinct image to picture in your mind for years to come. But then twenty years later you find yourself looking at a dead family member at an open casket funeral and the death scent of your fellow solider rushes from your nostrils to your brain, triggering a post traumatic stress disorder episode. While is may seem confusing to explain on paper, this movie would go through decades in order to show the everlasting effects of smells.
Picture this: a solider is caught in a trap in Iraq—his vehicle explodes leaving behind shrapnel and a stench of diesel has and cordite, a smokeless propellant. All he sees is that he is only one to survive the surprise trap attack and consequently suffers from depression after loosing fellow soldiers. Five years later, the same solider is filling up his Jetta Sport Wagon with diesel has as his toddler aged son watches from his car seat. The veteran gets a whiff of the diesel’s smell, and in the moment has a traumatic episode.
In order to effectively communicate the effects of smell on human psyche, especially in a war setting, the documentary would feature interviews from experts on this topic such as Pamela Dalton of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and perhaps Friedlander himself. While Friedlander goes into the many other ways scent resonates in our lives, the most exciting aspect of this, I think, is the war zone side of it. Americans love action packed films, and therefore this film would effectively show people how effective smells can be while catering to their preferred genre of film.