By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
I despise the implicit pro-Iraq War politics of "The Hurt Locker": There is no examination or even mention in the film of why the U.S. might be fighting there, no look at the neo-conservative ideology that sent our troops there, no questioning of the aggressive tactics aimed at Iraqi civilians, no overt politics at all, for that matter. But I cannot deny the movie's aesthetic power. It is a great film, one of the few war movies that really got into my gut. It well deserves its Best Picture Oscar.
It's possible that director Kathryn Bigelow made this film as a love-poem to the American troops abroad, but it works on so many other levels as well. In one sense, it's even possible to view it as an anti-war, pro-quick withdrawal movie.
In scene after scene, the U.S. troops in Iraq clearly are shown as an aggressive, swaggering army of occupation, which soon comes to realize that the Iraqis, almost all of them they meet, don't want the U.S. troops in their country. It would be easy to surmise that a good share of the violence in that country most likely will cease once the Americans leave.
"The Hurt Locker," in this interpretation, seems to be suggesting that the American troops are not just fighting the "insurgents" -- they seem to be waging war against huge chunks, perhaps close to a majority, of the Iraqi population that wants their country back. At least one can read that aspect of the film in such a way.
THE BOMB SQUAD
You know, or perhaps have heard, what "The Hurt Locker" is about: a unit of bomb-defusers go out every day to find IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that Iraqi "insurgent" forces have buried on or hidden next to the road down which U.S. convoys drive, or have secreted huge amounts of ordinance in the trunks of cars that can be detonated by cell-phones when American personnel pass by.
Wearing 100-lb. bomb-protection suits (in 100-degree weather in Iraq!), the bomb defuser's job is to locate the IEDs and render them harmless, or, if not, to blow them up in a way that will do no damage to U.S. forces. The bomb defusers sometimes die when things go wrong.
Given the dangers faced by this squad, there is no let-up in the tension. The least mistake and they're lying in pieces in the sand. My stomach was tied in knots for most of the movie, which I saw many months ago when the film opened here in San Francisco.
P.T.S.D. AND BOREDOM
I keep telling my wife (who doesn't want to see it) that the occasional violence in the movie is not the point of "The Hurt Locker."
What the movie really is about is how these gung-ho warriors deal with the tension and threats of destruction they face every moment they are in Iraq.
It's also about the adrenalin high they're on and what happens when these warriors get back home and have to deal with the relative quiet of suburban peacetime. It's not a pretty picture and, like the lead character in the movie (played brilliantly by Jeremy Renner, who deserved an Oscar), many want to return to the war zone as soon as they can. That's the environment in which these warriors thrive.
DEFUSING RIGHT-WING CRITICS
I found director Kathryn Bigelow's remarks at the Oscar Awards ceremony a bit puzzling. She went out of her way at least twice to shower U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with glory and praise. Methinks she doth protest too much. Why? I can only offer some reasonable speculation:
With its Best Picture award, there is no doubt that this small, independent film will be snapped up for widespread, mainstream exhibition in multiplexes around the country. There already had been a low-key, word-of-mouth campaign from the far-right to denigrate "The Hurt Locker" as insufficiently patriotic. Better to try to head that one off early, to get middle-American butts on the movie-house seats.