From the stories we've heard so far about people who enlist in the military - and people who try to get out as conscientious objectors - Robert is fairly typical. He enlisted when he was only 17, and needed his parents to sign a consent form. He says he didn't know what else to do - he had nowhere else to go, no idea what he wanted to do with his life. His mother had also joined the military under similar circumstances when she was younger. His older sister is now in the National Guard.
Robert is from a fairly typical "broken home." His parents are divorced, his father took his mother Anne to court, and now she lives on welfare in government housing.
She has two other kids from another man, a man with eleven kids himself who broke her nose in a fight once. She also has another daughter from another man whom she doesn't seem to know very well. Her brother, Robert's uncle, is in prison after being arrested for drunk driving for the fifth time, but even Robert doesn't know this. Robert joined the military when he literally had no other choice, after his mother kicked him out of the house and, later, the friend whom he was living with was also kicked out of his house. With no job, and nowhere to live, Robert finished high-school a year early and enlisted at 17.
We at Tourist have been following the story of Robert closely for several months now, since before we started filming in Germany, because he seemed like such a sincere and eloquent conscientious objector. He was in email contact with Michael at the Military Counseling Network once every few weeks, explaining that he wanted out of the military as a conscientious objector, and saying he was willing to go AWOL. We were very eager to follow Robert's story, and film the process of getting out with him, so when we heard his application had been rejected, and he was planning to go AWOL, we decided to fly to the US immediately to join him on the run.
His mother, Anne, picks me up from the airport. She doesn't seem to trust me, and she's not afraid to say it.
I realise it's very strange me just showing up from out of nowhere and recording her son's life, but sometimes Anne takes it a little too far.
"I don't know who you are, I don't know what your agenda is."
"Well, I don't have an agenda."
"Yeah, well, you say that, but I don't know you."
"Okay, uhh...but I guess you just have to trust me,"
"I mean, you could be a terrorist or something, I don't know,"
"Yeah...uhh...well I guess you just need to trust me that I want to tell your son's story."
Later, she confronts me again in front of Robert,
"This film isn't going to be unAmerican, is it?"
"Well, no, I don't have that in mind,"
"Robert, it's not going to be unAmerican is it?"
But, despite all this, she still seems to have a lot of - perhaps begrudging - respect for me. She doesn't mind telling it straight, but she also doesn't mind me telling it straight.
I get the feeling she's been through too much already to waste time bullshitting. Or, if I take Robert's word for it, she's just crazy.
Robert, too, isn’t afraid to tell it straight. He has a lot in common with his mother, though he might not like to hear that. They both say “I don’t care” a lot. They both say “I don’t know” and then go on to explain that they actually do know. Robert isn’t afraid to talk about everything he’s been through, and everything he’s planning. I appreciate that it’s a surreal situation for him to suddenly find a cameraman following him, “I don’t know what to expect,” he told me on the phone before I left London.
“I don’t know what to expect, either,” I told him.