Violence in films makes me uncomfortable, and I have conflicting feelings about the military. So I originally avoided watching “The Hurt Locker” because I was expecting two hours of macho bravado with guns.
Needless to say, my frame of reference is limited, and I went in to it full of prejudice.
But I was pleasantly surprised that the much hyped film didn’t make me squirm. In fact, I really enjoyed it.
I was still quick to judge. My first reaction, a completely unfair generalization, was “yeah, this was directed by a woman.”
I hate that kind of conclusion because it assumes that women are “sensitive” and don’t know how to make an action movie, and that men are tough and incapable of being emotional. It’s the kind of thinking that makes it so difficult for women in hollywood.
I’m not sure if I would have thought that if I hadn’t been hearing about Kathryn Bigelow (or the “rivalry” with her ex-husband) for the last three months. But all the media hype clouded my viewing.
So instead, I will say that I liked this movie because the soldiers, though underwritten in many cases, had moments of sensitivity that I wasn’t expecting from a movie about Iraq.
The Hurt Locker is more than just a string of action sequences and battle scenes. It’s about fighting, and fear, and mortality, and danger. It’s about conflicting personalities, and obligations. And it’s about bombs.
The opening scene, though thoroughly predictable, expertly established the tone of the film, and trained the audience on what to expect. In the first few minutes, we learn that danger is everywhere, no one can be trusted, and just about anything could get you killed.
It was excellent set-up for a later scene where James (Jeremy Renner) is trying to diffuse a complicated bomb. In a place where following the rules doesn’t guarantee survival, James’ renegade actions are both frightening and comforting. He has no fear. And that’s terrifying.
I felt immersed in the situation; I could imagine being there. There were no blaring sirens or dramatic explosions. I could imagine facing death, with no soundtrack except for the thoughts in my head. The silence was disturbing.
One obvious flaw is that with one main character, we know from the beginning that he’s not going to get blown up – at least not before the very end. It’s also easy to guess who will get blown up and when, making supporting characters’ deaths less momentous.
But despite the violence, the film does not minimize the emotions of killing and facing death. The constant fear that some soldiers experience wasn’t avoided and it wasn’t in any way shameful. It was a fact of war.
It was another one of my preconceptions, but I didn’t expect these men show vulnerability or warmth.
James is both a warrior and a caretaker. In one poignant scene, after fighting insurgents in the desert, James asks for a juice box. Without discussion, James opens the juice, brings it to his friend, and makes him drink. After taking out the enemy with a sniper gun, the soldier is distraught. James cares for him. It was a simple, yet effective act.
That kind of multifaceted man does not show up in most mainstream movies – particularly action movies.
There are still moments of typical “army guy” moves that we’ve come to expect in many American war movies – pushing around the locals, and generally acting like jerks to each other, but it was definitely not the focus.
And while there is some gore, it wasn’t gratuitous. It was painful. It was death.
Because of all the pain, it was no surprise that James’ fellow soldiers were struggling to get by. It’s a feeling that the audience can related to. But James remains mostly unfazed.
He’s hurt by the violence, but doesn’t hate the war. It is not until he goes home to his mundane, suburban life that he realizes that he craves the danger in his life. It doesn’t feel cheesy or forced – he’s just a guy who can no longer find fulfillment any other way.
While this movie stands alone because of its merits, it also needs to be understood in its broader social context.
Kathryn Bigelow is one of only four women to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars. She could be the first to win. That’s a pretty pathetic stat considering women make up half the population.
I don’t want this movie to be judged as a woman’s movie, but I do want it to be a wake up call for the industry. Like most things, directing movies should be based on talent, not what you’ve got between your legs.
Some people don’t think that women can direct action movies, and I didn’t think I could appreciate a movie about war.
I came around. Will Hollywood?