Last night I loaded up on chocolate covered almonds and banana chips, skipping packzis to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
Then I sat down to watch The Hurt Locker, and Lent began.
I don’t like undue violence, I’m not crazy about war movies and am usually skeptical of any film that attempts to tell the story of the war in in Iraq.
But The Hurt Locker is poised to become one of the films that defines the America of this generation. Like The War Tapes, Hurt Locker captures the experience of current deployed military personnel without vilifying or excusing the problems indicative of their lifestyle. Neither does it portray Iraqi people simply. There is no clear vilification, and there is also no righteous Iraqi heroism, which always comes across as false or pandering when told by white American filmmakers. The film is instead an intensely personal exploration of the mindset and daily life of three members of a bomb disposal team.
Perhaps it was the chocolate, a lack of sleep, hormones, or some other unknown factor, but the emotional impact of the film was startling. This is because it never felt forced. The film told the dirty truth that separates the experience of active military personnel and those of us who have lived civilian American lives. The film is violent. I’m not sure there is ever an excuse for violence, but that’s one of the selling points of The Hurt Locker. No one should have to see that much death, whether they be Marine, Iraqi civilian, military contractor, or militant Islamic operative. No one should, but many do on a daily basis and it changes them. The calling of Hurt Locker is a desire to help us understand the mindset of those who have faced brutal violence and fear. Those who have returned or come to American society, as well as people around the world who do not have the privilege of peace and stability.
The last image of the film is SSG William James, as played by Jeremy Renner, charging the camera on his first op after re-upping. He’s back in his body armor, gun in hand, running full tilt at the camera. The image glamorizes the thrill, the rush, the glory of battle. But instead of being caught up in these emotions, the viewer, at least this viewer, is left feeling nothing but fear, pity, and hurt. Sgt. James knows no other life, no other thrill, and no one can understand it. The structure of the scenes and the moments between characters that lead to this moment showcase intentional and effective crafting on the part of the filmmakers. We see the thrill because it’s James’ thrill, not ours.
For these reasons, The Hurt Locker may well, and should, become a touchstone film that embodies the internal and external conflicts that, like Vietnam, define our generation.