by Javier Solórzano Casarin
The Vietnam War or the invasion of Vietnam, however you want to see it, has unfolded into raw material for creating a great variety of American films. Some of them, became classics.
Today, the United States has again taken center stage in a war that appears to have no end in sight. The Iraq War has also inspired countless contemporary movies. A recent example that comes to mind in the category of well-conceived films is “In the Valley of Elah” by writer and director Paul Haggis. It’s storytelling, articulate, intelligent and unexpected, severely criticized the war and the participation of the US government.
The new film, “The Hurt Locker” (2008), directed by Kathryn Bigelow has the courage and insight to address a completely different approach. In this case, war is the context, the staging, the leitmotiv and naturally the geographic location where the story takes place. But beyond that, there are no other connotations. There is no political dimension, nor an ideological proposal of right and wrong. Things just happen. In Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, a game unfolds every day and the name of the game is survival. Sergeant William James, played with great subtlety by actor Jeremy Renner, is the protagonist. He is the man appointed to pursue one of the most dangerous tasks in the battlefield — defusing bombs planted by the enemy. Even more shocking is the fact that Sergeant James loves his job. It is no longer just a way of life but a passion, a source of adrenaline, and above all else, a drug. His two fellow soldiers are seriously affected by the danger of his actions. One of them Sergeant JT Sanborn (played by Anthony Mackie) realizes that there is not much to say after the daredevil James responds to his demands by saying, “this is combat”, and indeed it is combat.
Whether it is reprehensible or not for a dramatic film about war to be apolitical, belongs to another discussion. Bigelow’s film, which features an impressive cinematic narrative is not intended to answer any questions or existential anxieties.
It is relevant to meditate upon the fact that cinema is not only an artistic endeavor that can reflect or critique on social or political issues; but it is equally valuable in how it can portray reality in its most basic and elemental forms. To just show things as they are, without any formal judgment. This can be just as fascinating.
“The Hurt Locker” can be classified, on the surface, as a great action film which would also be true, but this does not in any way make it into a one-dimensional work of cinema. It is also, if one decides to look in more deeply, a committed an honest portrayal of the lives of those who experience the incomprehensible brutality of war.
You can’t judge the omission of other ideas or hypotheses, because the intention is different.
In this particular film, its talented director boasts its visual and evocative skills, and utilizes the Iraq War as means to tell a captivating suspense story where panic, terror, death and human emotions are essential ingredients. Artists have always used fragments of life as tools to achieve their ultimate goal.
At the end, there is undoubtedly a candid portrayal of how we human beings have become devoid of empathy and sensibility, because the pain and horrors of war are very present. We are just not affected by them anymore and carry on with our lives. That is why Sergeant James realizes that he prefers the site and experience of combat to his own family and the promise of a quiet life. In its conclusion, Bigelow gives us one of the most unpredictable and powerful endings I’ve ever seen in a motion picture.
*Published on March of 2008.