January 31, 2010
"The Hurt Locker" - Kathryn Bigelow's Dispassionate Lens Captures the Impact of War
Who's 'hurting', and why inside of a 'locker'? Ms. Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" had a title that tantalized, and despite it being a 'war' movie I decided to rent it just so I could find an answer to the aforementioned question.
The movie is quite like a documentary on the US presence in Iraq during 2004 where the US soldiers were fighting a faceless enemy. There is no real story that Bigelow spins ; it is more a Cisneros style stringing together of vignettes that lay the blueprint for an analysis of what an endless war and senseless violence can do to soldiers fighting on foreign soils. The documentary features the Delta Company, a US Army unit stationed in Iraq that detects and defuses I.E.D.’s. It is made up of three very disparate individuals; Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) an overtly sensitive and self deprecatory young man who is admittedly nervous and confused about being in this violence infested place. Then there is Sgt. J. T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) who detests what he does, but is smart enough to keep himself alive so that he can get home. Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), the most interesting of the three, joins Delta after its leader is killed, and is always suspect in the eyes of his other two comrades. The reason being James' recklessness and near enjoyment of the job he does; diffusing and sometimes detonating IEDs which have the capability to blow away lives and buildings in a matter of seconds. James is the one who, in close proximity to the IED, actually clips the wires that connect to the explosive. Yet, neither his body nor his face manifest any fear of or revulsion to what he does. In fact quite the contrary; there is exhilaration and complete absorption writ large on his face when he is at work, almost like that of an artist with his creation.
The movie presents multiple vignettes in which the trio handle missions involving bomb detection, leading to either disposal or diffusion of the bomb, and in some situations deciding on a detonation with casualties. Ms Bigelow presents war through her lens and follows the Delta squad around capturing each member's unique response to situations as they unfold. She also captures the way three interact when they are not on a mission and that is when the hurt shows; each of the three is 'hurting' as a result of the situation and it is this 'hurt' that appears to bind them. Of the three it is James who seems to realize that there is no 'out' of this situation; the 'hurting' will not go away, it is his for a lifetime, and he will not be able to share it with anyone other than with his comrades at war. They are basically confined to this 'locker' of 'hurt' for the rest of their lives because when they are not in it physically, then they carry it within their minds. They can never again lead normal lives as James has figured out, and that perhaps explains his complete immersion in and commitment to the morbid task he is assigned to.
Is Bigelow sending us a message as did many other movie makers who made movies about the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan? There were numerous ones like Syriana that were made perhaps to bolster the morale of American soldiers fighting on foreign soils, but 'The Hurt Locker" is different as it has no hidden agenda except perhaps to capture in a matter of fact way the impact of war, both in terms of lives lost physically, and those lost mentally and permanently relegated to the confines of "The Hurt Locker".