Monday, March 08, 2010

Movie Review: The Hurt Locker [and why it won so many Oscars]


America gives itself a pat on the back in The Hurt Locker - by Nick van der Leek

The Hurt Locker is visceral, and it has a verisimilitude which is chilling, and troubling. It's a flick deserving of accolades, but in the context of the present day, giving the Oscar for best picture, and best director, to Bigelow and The Hurt Locker tells you just how political that decision is.

During a time when, just a few weeks ago, world leaders - including Obama - gathered to piss on the Copenhagen Climate Conference, when America has seen its status, its wealth and prestige decline, there is a strong sense of a nation that wants, needs to give itself a hug. It needs to find a new direction, it needs to change who and what it is. But does that mean supporting its troops in combat? Supporting its initiatives. Supporting those behaviours that have essentially pushed the nation to where it currently finds itself. A cynic would say that The Hurt Locker might as well have been a flick about a brave banker who bravely takes an incredible gamble on the equity markets and wins, thus re-inspiring faith in the American Dream [which is what - a house in suburbia, a job in the city, and a cheap mortgage that's not so cheap]? The point is, The Academy have decided to ingratiate themselves, haven't they?

There is no doubt that Bigelow did a fine job, and of course it is wonderful that a woman [director] walks away with an Oscar for the first time in the Academy's 82 year history. That is to be celebrated. An Iraqi war drama isn't. When I was driving in Western Australia earlier this year, I was listening to a BBC World Service broadcast in my rented car. Britain's ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was being interrogated for his role in sending British troops to Iraq. He had to explain the WMD ruse. Many commentators criticised his defense of his actions, actions contrary to those of the British public and described Blair as nervous.

What does that have to do with a review of The Hurt Locker. A lot really. Here's what Michael Moore says:

Some critics have hailed “The Hurt Locker” because the film “doesn’t take sides” in the Iraq War — like that’s an admirable thing! I wonder if there were critics during the Civil War that hailed plays or books for being “balanced” about slavery, or if there were those who praised films during World War II for “not taking sides?” I keep reading that the reason Iraq War films haven’t done well at the box office is because they’ve been partisan (meaning anti-war).


The truth is “The Hurt Locker” is very political. It says the war is stupid and senseless and insane. It makes us consider why we have an army where people actually volunteer to do this. That’s why the right wing has attacked the movie. They’re not stupid — they know what Kathryn Bigelow is up to. No one leaves this movie thinking, “Whoopee! Let’s keep these wars going another 7 years!”


There is another way to see The Hurt Locker of course. And that is that it glorifies bravery and courage. I am not sure whether Bigelow meant to emphasise this aspect. In fact I think it is the opposite - she is shocked that men would choose this sort of life. In one sense, it is the commentary, the observation of a woman over the choices men make. At one point in the flick, there is a bit of exposition around which most of Bigelow's message turns [and somehow you can't imagine a male director coming up with this]:

Staff Sergeant William James: [Speaking to his son] You love playing with that. You love playing with all your stuffed animals. You love your Mommy, your Daddy. You love your pajamas. You love everything, don't ya? Yea. But you know what, buddy? As you get older... some of the things you love might not seem so special anymore. Like your Jack-in-a-Box. Maybe you'll realize it's just a piece of tin and a stuffed animal. And then you forget the few things you really love. And by the time you get to my age, maybe it's only one or two things. With me, I think it's one.

That one turns out to be war.

Perhaps the Academy haven't ingratiated themselves after all, perhaps The Hurt Locker is an honest portrayal of America's walk down the wrong path, whereas AVATAR is too fanciful?
I don't think so. This is my opinion, but I believe AVATAR has a message and the ability to influence people far more so than The Hurt Locker's subtle critique. People get the war is shit theme. AVATAR's message is more ephemeral, more spiritual, more potent, and more inclusive. It asks us to change who we are, change course, take a higher and harder road. And the majority of people are ready to do that. Of course, to do that would mean revolutionary change. It would mean Corporations would lose their stranglehold, or have to fight tooth and claw to maintain it.

Why do so many men choose to fight? Why are America's armies composed not of draftees but volunteers? Because the current gaming generation enjoys the idea of the rush of battle, they feel alive when their lives are on the line. More so, I suppose, than standing in the aisle of a supermarket trying to choose a cereal.

The Hurt Locker exposes a grim reality, as do other contemporary flicks, not just AVATAR but Alice in Wonderland. It suggests that the world we make, the world we've created for ourselves is far from what we should want, and thus we flee from it either through fantasy or in more desperate ways. The Hurt Locker is a term that is very appropriate to our current situation. We're trapped, in a prison of pain. But unlike AVATAR, The Hurt Locker doesn't offer a suggestion how to escape this prison, either in who to be or in what to do. It merely gazes with subtle criticism at the choices men make and wonders for how long we will continue to make these poor choices.

ingratiate: to gain favor or favorable acceptance for by deliberate effort

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article Nick, spot on!

jim senka said...

good analysis. imho, avatar had so much more to say about our situation, whereas hurt locker, while well-done is merely an appeal to our need to be scared, and see violence... not much more than that. as far as the comments from reporters - the fact that they are embedded says enough.

Nick van der Leek said...

thanks guys

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