Thursday, September 2, 2010

"I'm just kidding..."

The Hurt Locker (2008)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

The Americans are finally leaving a bruising, expensive and ultimately unrewarding theater of conflict in Iraq and this perhaps might just be the perfect interval in which to review The Hurt Locker.

The movie begins by bringing you crash bang straight into the action and establishes the main characters and the relationships between them almost intuitively in a matter of minutes. Before you’ve had time to place yourself in geographical and historical context within Iraq, you are cheering on a bomb disposal expert (played by Guy Pearce), you root for his team, you palpably feel the tension in the air, and you marvel at a beautiful slow-motion close-up when an IED eventually goes off. The screenwriter of The Hurt Locker is also the screenwriter of In the Valley of Elah – a movie that showed us the moral bankruptcy that comes of putting one’s faith in an archaic concept of patriotism as applied to meaningful personal relationships. The Hurt Locker on the other hand focuses almost solely on the animalization that is visited on those who have had to submit to the process of war, without ever having a choice in the matter. There is even a poignant scene in which a suggestion is made to a soldier by the psychiatrist counseling him that the experience of war could be thought of as fun, instead of an ordeal that one must somehow get through before the next troop rotation.

I must confess that some scenes in the movie had more of an impact on me than others: The hint of personal violence implicit in a tense exchange between the black Sergeant Sanborn and the newly arrived Staff Sergeant James in a common toilet, the frantic searching for a detonator within the cramped confines of a car carrying more than five IEDs and in which a fire had just been put out, the grim focus of the sniper when he has to wait at the trigger of his unloaded rifle while his last remaining magazine is being cleaned of blood so that it doesn’t jam the weapon, and all the scenes in which the main character James uses the phrase, ‘I’m just kidding’ after pushing all the characters he shares these scenes with, almost over the edge with his horseplay.

Though it is of course futile to expect that film-making such as this will lead to a general mass uprising against any further military forays into regions of the world where the US is to the locals as little green men are to the planet Mars… it might just be that the scales are tipping.
A world without war will not need heroes like Staff Sergeant James, who are so impulsive that the fatal consequences of their actions never seem to influence their standing amongst their colleagues, or their own ambivalent humanity.

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