The Duck of Minerva

If You Haven’t Seen This Movie, You Probably Should.

26 August 2009

Eric Randolph tells us why at Complex Terrain Lab in a post entitled “A New Kind of War Movie” :

“The Hurt Locker has already garnered the epithet of ‘first great Iraq war movie’ since its US release back in June, but that might actually be an underestimation. For a start, it has an intensity that will leave your bowels twisted and your nails bleeding; and it’s made a star of a nobody in James Renner. But, more importantly, by side-stepping the question of the war’s founding morality and justification, director Kathryn Bigelow has achieved something quite new for the war genre. Her resolute focus on the daily activities of a small cog in the military machine – namely, a bomb disposal unit in 2004 Baghdad – results in a film that is neither anti-war polemic nor gung-ho propaganda piece. Rather, she simply seeks to represent the unadorned and bleak reality of daily routine, with the caveat that the daily routine in question happens to be a horrifically dangerous nightmare.

As an exercise in compulsive tension, it is obviously a great subject for a filmmaker, and one that Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have expertly realised. But more than that, it is also a rare look at the process of war-fighting. Cinema has often treated soldiers as metaphors for the grand existential struggles of mankind, or as the tortured pawns of some inherent evil in the world. By contrast, the soldiers of The Hurt Locker are simply employees doing a particular bizarre job. The action is episodic, occurring in a series of fairly independent set pieces that bring home the monotony of work far more than any quest for glory. Although Bigelow tries to inject some concluding “what does it all mean?”-style remarks towards the end, these moments sit uncomfortably in a film that avoids melodrama, sweeping rationalisations or any over-arching narrative.”

I withhold judgment until after I have a chance to rent and watch, which on Randolph’s tantalizing recommendation I shall do this weekend. But based on his description I think this genre (nuts and bolts of work in and around wars, sans grand narrative) was actually pioneered earlier in the decade – with films about the First Gulf War. Jarhead and Three Kings (possibly, though maybe it was in a genre all its own) come to mind. It’s true that you haven’t seen a film of this type about the Iraq war, so that’s new. I wonder if there is some generalizable lag in films about particular wars that renders this type of movie politically acceptable a certain amount of time after the onset of hostilities.