GONE ELVIS is a no holds barred witness to the external and internal events of one day in the life of a female homeless veteran. This film, like the post-service life of many military veterans, poses no landscape of fruitful plain and offers no forest of resolution – absent the thoughts and longings for action-to-change the film evokes in its viewers.
The term “Gone Elvis” refers to a soldier gone missing. In the context of this film, the inference is that our veterans return, though somehow, parts of them are MIA.
The film begins – it’s a beautiful day. An attractive young woman, who we learn is Olivia Sloane, looks out her Buick Compass driver’s side window. We note what is out of place – the objects in the inside windows that obscure light and unwanted gazes. Very soon, we have taken a seat next to her as she begins her day as a homeless Iraq war Veteran in Anytown, USA.
Almost immediately, we know some things about Olivia. She dotes with kisses, a photo pinned to her sun visor – a visual keepsake of her daughter. We watch her stretch out a knee that doesn’t want to move.
What strikes soon after, is the sheer invisibility of Olivia Sloane. From the front seat, we see her driving along a tree-lined road in an inconspicuous car, sunglasses and youthful features, as common to the eyes as the trees she drives past – as noteworthy as a passing cloud. Her ‘mobile home’ – her only tie to a chance at a life at least one degree of separation from the elements – ignites a sobered sentiment that every Veteran has her or his own unique story. And, as such, is intrinsically memorable, if only we are alerted to notice them in our visual landscape. Yes, we see them – standing tall at a table outside a grocery store, asking for donations for some Veterans’ charity… and, we don’t; we don’t see the vast flock of veterans that call our towns, home; they are as numerous as sparrows. But, they are as invisible as an individual bird in a flock-darkened sky.
Olivia Sloane, former Army Sergeant, 8thMPs, 728th Battalion, Iraq, is strikingly unique – smart, beautiful, disciplined, and disabled. Yes, disabled with a bad leg. And, yes, she seems disabled from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – a disorder brought up by her Veterans Affairs Doctor in the film, a disorder that tells her internal Sentry to Be On Guard 24/7, fueled by a psyche that replays the traumatic. Perhaps, a cane. Perhaps, time and therapy for the PTSD.
Then, at a job counselor’s office, we witness a disability and its lack of remedy – perpetually disabled each time one in our society raises a palm rather than extending one to a veteran. This film paints it rightly – as if our society is a desert housing sparrows, providing scarce tree branches.
The job counselor tells her that her skills don’t go far enough in our Recession. It’s in this scene that we get confirmation of the meaning of a flashback Olivia has earlier in the gym shower – we know by the info she shares in this interview plus the shower flashback that she’s been raped by her Commanding Officer. As a result, she’s received a “satisfactory” rather than “honorable” discharge. While we can see that the counselor understands what’s not being said, the counselor breaks it to her straight up that her only satisfactory performance may cause would-be bosses to balk. Rather than agree to disclose the details, Olivia refuses and neuters her chances at a promising job. She does get a chance at piecemeal work, but Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder finds her there, and the burden of her daughter’s absence is too great for her to bear.
When her Doctor later mentions treatment and benefit monies for a diagnosis of PTSD, Olivia replies with everything she is: In a nutshell, “I don’t need a shrink. I need a job, and place for me to live with my daughter, but first I need to find her.” This motivation propels Olivia forward in a way that nothing else can. In this, we see the core of a veteran’s longing – a chance to pursue the life they long for – in essence, The American Dream. For Olivia, her version of The American Dream is to find her daughter, taken by her ex-husband, who left her while she was abroad.
It is Olivia’s steadfast perseverance, portrayed masterfully and entirely believably by the Actress Carla Duren, that allows us to continue to watch with our eyes and hearts wide open. Carla feeds her role only sparingly – just enough to breathe life into the next moment. This conveys exactly, the feeling that Olivia lives moment to moment, and is doing so, seemingly right now – giving the film the unshakable feeling of a documentary.
We get a message loud and clear in the middle of the film, that Olivia’s greatest role is still that of an Army Sergeant, even though she’s been discharged. Without much emotion, she checks into a hotel room with the permission of the Front Desk Clerk, just to change into her formal uniform. She adds her commendation hardware, and puts herself together with the care of a bonsai gardener. We then sit in the back seat of her car, and see a cemetery come into view. The occasion? Representing the Army at a military funeral. As she participates in the ceremony of folding the flag that has draped the coffin, her eyes tell the story of her beginning and end – as a person, as a soldier.
It hits, like a silent explosion – an awareness that she is most utilized in civilian life when she appears at a military funeral. And then, it is as if invisible water delivers the following in a cascade: Olivia and other veterans never leave the Military – they remain enlisted to the Code of Conduct, a commitment to Other Soldiers, to the American Public, and to the memories derived during Service. And that Veterans never fully come home because we don’t have a place for Everything They Are. They are confined to the Public’s niches for them – ironically perhaps the most accommodating place, our cemeteries.
Equally as compelling is a scene when Olivia takes a short break outside a Laundromat. She watches a homeless former vet (identifiable from his jacket patches), limp to an aluminum can, and place it in his shopping cart. Her “Army” tee shirt counters his jacket, and they see the other in eyes that have captured similar images-to-sentiments. We know, in that moment, what Olivia knows – that she is one car away from that life.
During the film, Olivia’s endures the repeated statement, “Thank you for your service” – each time, delivered by someone who has chosen not to extend pivotal help to her. At night, when she is parked in a hotel lot, she hears it from law enforcement. We finally hear through her demeanor to the cop, that Olivia’s asking if we’re not going to help her, at least get out of her way, so she can move towards feeling as whole as she can – through shelter, healing, and love. She speaks this to us as she waives off an inclination to overdose on a narcotic.
David Newhoff has brought us a gift from his psyche. The heroine Olivia, a name derived from the olive tree, linked to the olive branch, a symbol of peace, and the surname Sloane, that translates Warrior – Olivia Sloane, the perfect heroine who cries like a caged sparrow for a peaceful opportunity to be her own warrior in a war that endures when she comes home. This, in the end, is the Anthem of Olivia Sloane – allow veterans to return to reclaim themselves as they can – so they are less “Gone Elvis”.
GONE ELVIS Review
FILM SYNOPSIS - A day in the life of a homeless, female veteran of the Iraq war.