Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Few Belated Comments on The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is a great movie in the cinematic tradition of dogma: unadorned, without sentiment or fakery

Bigelow depicts men under threat from all angles; and the men, their weapons cocked, are attuned to everything—a squeak, a pop, a wire snaking out from under a mound of debris. The movie doesn’t lead with the paralysis of the guilt-ridden. The horror is there, but under the rush.

The film follows the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, a bomb squad that shows up to dismantle devices of varying degrees of sophistication and deadliness. After an overture in which a cautious sergeant is killed, his replacement shows up: Staff Sergeant William James, a an adrenaline junkie wild man. “That is some hot shit!” a colonel repeats, but Sanborn working under James, thinks he’s dangerous and and considers fragging him.

A bomb squad in a war zone presents dizzying variables: Each time out, James has a new puzzle to solve (Where’s the trigger? Is there a timer or are insurgents standing by with a button to push?), while Sanborn and the jittery specialist Owen Eldridge pirouette and focus and refocus their sights: “Young man at nine o’clock holding a video camera.” “Three guys at six o’clock.” “Cell phone!” (the last a potential detonator). Do you shoot them? Shoot into windows with kids nearby? Civilians can freak out from the pressure, too—freezing in their cars or striding up to overanxious troops with idiotic pleasantries. (“Where are you from—California?”)

The characters matter a great deal. James for all his wildness defuses bombs with no wasted motion. He is what he is, and the war--a world of hurt, a hurt locker, is what it is -- hell on earth, deadly, chaotic, cruel, soul-crushing, and, in some cases, to borrow the title of Chris Hedges's book from which the opening quote comes, a force that giving meaning. Sanborn is a by-the-book soldier mostly, but a man who’d take honest joy in killing James—who does, at times, pose a threat to the unit’s safety. Eldridge is an unholy mess, wholly reactive and therefore undefended.

The movie is not pro or anti the Iraq war: it shows the war as the thing it is from the soldiers' point of view. Soldiers are scared as well they should be. Even James, the "wild man," has emotional collapses, not in the field but rather when he tries to do something, on his own to avenge a kid's death or get back at suicide bombers of an oil rig. It all gets him nowhere, because there's nothing to be done, and he's beaten down by the war's immense cruelty and incomprehensibiity. He's better off dpersonalizing himself and sticking to what he needs to do--defusing bombs.

No comments:

Post a Comment