While the premise of three senior citizens offering airport handshakes to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan sounds sort of lame, the documentary is surprisingly nothing of the sort, being one of the most moving and depressing (in a good way) docs to come along in some time. In addition to a polished technical package, The Way We Get By acts as a sensitive sounding board not for the soldiers, necessarily, but for those forgotten and left to face mortality on their own.
For the last six years, at a tiny Maine airport, the aforementioned seniors — one of which is director Aron Gaudet's mother — greet returning soldiers at all hours of the day, as an expression of compassion, regardless of their personal opinions on the war. It's all about understanding the nature of what it must feel like to wage battle and face possible death, only to be forgotten and ignored by those the battle was arguably fought for.
While obviously there are moments that take place in the airport and fleeting interviews with soldiers discussing how much it means to them, the doc chiefly focuses on the three seniors who speak candidly about the little things that matter near the end, along with the nature of loss and their fears about the impending. This is particularly heartbreaking when one of the subjects has to put his dog down, which, of course, is his closest friend.
Some rumination about the nature of community in times of strife flutters about, adding an uplifting element to the proceedings, but what stands out is the emotional truth of the doc. No one wants to think of the lonely nature of death but perhaps some insight on the subject will help the rest of us empathize more with those dealing with it. This one made me cry.