Generally speaking I don’t watch a lot of war movies. When I
was in junior high I was into them because I was really influenced by Larry
Hama’s GI JOE comic, and although a comic book based on a toy line, Hama did
his research and the book’s portrayal of the effects of Vietnam on several of
the main characters really peaked my interest in the historical aspect of the
conflict and the military in general. However, as I got older this became less
the case and movies like Platoon, Hamburger Hill and the like started to feel
off limits to me. Looking back on it now I would wager to say this was because
even without realizing it Operation Desert Storm shifted the environment I
lived in – I’d grown up knowing ‘War’ as iconic historical events I read about
in history class. I’d never lived with it as something that impacted my
existence directly. Then suddenly war became something real, something that
saturated the mundane world with conflict, fear and tragedy everyday.
Now in 2010 war is the wallpaper of the world – gone are the
iconic series of conflicts I viewed through history replaced instead by a
vulgar reality each and every one of us is affected by in a different way.
Again, looking back I now I believe it was because of this that I developed a
kind of empathy: I have never been to war, nor boot camp, nor any derivation
thereof, so I guess I began to feel as though these things should be off-limits
to me as a consumer. It wasn’t that I chastised the aforementioned movies nor
any of their genre. Instead it was a disconnect I felt was there for a reason.
Even Full Metal Jacket, an all time favorite because of its
characters and their eminent, archetypal quotability seemed somehow held at
bay: I always say I need to buy it (because I haven’t seen the thing since it
came out on VHS but I, like so many other fans, can quote up
and down from it) but somehow I just never have.
So I wasn’t really interested in seeing The Hurt Locker.
Films rooted in the Iraq war seemed especially off limits to me because
I knew/know people over there; what right do I have to enjoy fiction based on the
horrors they have experienced? Also there is always the atrocity-of-war factor
and honestly, in a locale in space and time where we’ve had war for a decade
and no end in sight, a reality where atrocities go up on youtube and openly compete with
fictional cinema for the zeitgeist, well I would just rather disappear into
House of the Devil or Shutter Island.
Know what I’m saying?
But the other night I watched Katheryn Bigelow’s film,
which shortly before writing this won best picture, and I was completely blown
away. Why you ask? What is different about The Hurt Locker? Well, I’m not sure
I understand all of it myself, but let me try to explain what I saw in the
The Hurt Locker is not first and foremost a story about war.
It is a really slick, well-made sociological study of a generation raised
with war in the video game age.You see this in every aspect of the main character Staff Sergeant William James’ personality – from his inability to work with others to his lust for adrenaline. People are changing – our personality types and attention spans and ideas of survival and inter-personal relationships, and The Hurt Locker tagged all of this in a totally un-preaching, nerve-wracking*, bird’s eye view of what it would be like to spend everyday policing a foreign culture – one that A) largely doesn’t want you there to begin with and B) is littered with customs and mores that, when interpreted in life-or-death situations, would make everyone around you look like they are out to kill you. The film really made me feel the hopelessness and frustration of the situation that we as Americans have largely let slip into the background of everyday life. And while watching a movie and blogging about it may not be helping, I was very affected by this film and have to give heapings of props to all those involved. But not nearly as much as I have to give props to the men and women who risked/risk their lives to deal with this insane situation in reality.