By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
This year saw an acclaimed documentary released about James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped in Syria, held for ransom, and eventually executed by ISIS, one of too many in the last decade.
What ISIS doesn’t know is that like Roger here, they will be the 99 virgins.
Theo Who Lived tells the other side of that horror story- about a journalist who was captured and held prisoner by ISIS, but who lived. Theo Padnos returns to the sites of his captivity and simply tells us about his brutal captivity and remarkable survival.
While clearly no slouch in handling the camera and crafting evocative images, director David Schisgall clearly knows when to get out of the way and let somebody tell their fascinating story, and in Theo Padnos, he’s found a fascinating storyteller. Theo is so deadpan yet revealing about the horrors he faced that it’s impossible to parse his complicated psychology, why he would want to return to this horrific places, revisit what must still haunt his nightmares in a way that is impossible for us to imagine.
Don’t let that cadence of his voice, so matter of fact, almost stoner quality, throw you off, though. While his survival alone attests to the fact, what Schisgall allows the camera and Theo himself to reveal is a remarkable spirit, a man with a sense of perspective on life, an indomitable sense of humor, that very few share. When he tells us that you must”refuse to capitulate to, participate in the cycle of hate”, it makes all of our day to day annoyances and furies look incredibly trite. When you see him in southern Italy helping Syrian refugees off of slipshod watercraft, apparently a full-time job for him now which he performs with the largest grin on his face, you understand you’re seeing a man who’s figured it all out. A Trump can keep his billions and spew on his hateful rhetoric in front of an adoring audience, but he’ll never understand joy, or duty, or power like this man who was broken, yet healed even stronger.
Making this documentary almost feels irresponsible- not in the subject matter, but in having a film crew return with Theo to a region that is no safer than when he left it. When you consider Foley got abducted while making essentially the same film about John Cantlie, another lucky survivor of captivity, and now a man returned to that captivity, it boggles the mind a bit.
Just because you have massive balls doesn’t mean it’s always smart to listen to them.
Also, watching Theo watch the interview of the cellmate who repaid him for helping him escape by abandoning him immediately felt a bit anticlimatic. I’m sure they did try to set up some sort of confrontation between the two, but in the absence of that, it felt lacking in catharsis for all involved.
Theo Who Lived is about living deep in the shadow of Death, yet living on anyway. I’m glad Theo Padnos lived through both that experience and making this film, because he’s clearly an incredible human being.
Theo Who Lived (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Sip: for stock footage smoke and explosions
Take a Drink: for massive understatement
Take a Drink: for betrayal
Take a Drink: whenever Theo mentions a time he was sure he would die
Do a Shot: for each failed escape attempt