Ben Foster’s “Leave No Trace” Tackles PTSD, Mental Health

By David Konow 12/04/18

In the critically-acclaimed movie, Foster plays a veteran coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ben Foster plays a veteran with PTSD in "Leaves No Trace"
Photo via YouTube

Ben Foster, star of X-Men: The Last Stand and 3:10 to Yuma, has received rave reviews and early Oscar buzz this year for his role Leave No Trace where he plays a veteran dealing with PTSD.

Foster hopes the film will help reduce the public stigma around mental health, and as the actor told People, “Some wounds and illnesses are invisible to the naked eye. By sharing stories about our own unique experiences, we can allow a safe identification and hopefully a conversation. Any time we look past a bias or perceived stigma, for ourselves or others, we strengthen our own humanity. Practicing empathy is the first mighty step towards healing.”

When Leave No Trace was coming together, Foster told Indie Wire that “the unseen scars of war” and how veterans cope with them “are things that have touched my life by having friends in the military, and I felt like I could ask these questions in an emotional way that I haven’t before, so that was exciting … Further than that, trauma is trauma, and war doesn’t get to own PTSD. Understanding that if you live long enough on this planet and you make it to a certain age we’re gonna experience things that go unresolved, leave a mark. We need to find ways to cope.”

To prepare for the role, Foster consulted with Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a renowned psychologist who helps veterans. (In 2012, Van Dahlen made Time’s Most Influential People List.) Foster previously worked with Dr. Van Dahlen when he starred in the Chris Stapleton video for “Fire Away,” which also raised awareness for mental health awareness.

Foster called Van Dahlen “one of [the] most beautiful compassionate humans I’ve had the good fortune of meeting. She helped guide us towards a more authentic expression of how depression manifests itself and affects loved ones, while at the same time suggesting hope and ways to connect.”

Van Dahlen created a foundation for vets called Give an Hour, where therapists donate an hour of their time for free to help veterans cope after serving. (Since forming in 2005, the organization, through the work of 7,000 therapists, has reportedly given 250,000 hours of free help to vets.)

With Leave No Trace, Van Dahlen feels it’s important “to tell authentic, accurate stories. We’ve had way too many in our history of sensationalized stories so, sadly, people think all veterans are broken, they all have post-traumatic stress. And that’s not true. ‘Leave No Trace’ is such a beautiful and compelling film … Ben really is such a student and was meticulous about getting it right and being authentic.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.