One of our more memorable movie reviews this year was when Madison took the reins on The Hurt Locker, one of this year’s big Oscar favorites, and essentially tore it to pieces. I hadn’t seen the film yet when he reviewed it, but I’ve seen it twice since, and my most recent time was last night, where I used all my analytical powers from AP English, and saw the film for the grand metaphor it was, something myself and Madison both missed our first time through.
Madison claimed that he liked that the film didn’t really have a political message, but I maintain that it did have one, buried within the subtext of what we were seeing. The movie as a whole, and individual scenes I believe were meant to convey larger truths about the war and our country as a whole. You’ll see what I mean.
First of all, I believe Renner’s character, Sgt. James, is supposed to represent America, with his badass swagger, and death-wish-like approach to war, which results in both putting himself and his allies unnecessarily in harm’s way, while neglecting his more pressing responsibilities back home (his wife and child he doesn’t feel like dealing with, much like our own domestic problems shorted in favor of war funding). Instead he’s happier wandering around the desert, waiting to get blown up at any given moment by a dangerous situation that he can’t diffuse in time, and he’s already suffered scars from previous events like the ones he now encounters every day. The mantra of the film, “war is a drug” isn’t mean just to apply to James, but to America in general, and how recently, when there was no war to be fought, we instead created one with “preemptive action.”
Outside of its larger picture of America, I believe individual scenes within the movie strengthen this parallel, and have more specific interpretation. For example, in one scene, James enters an abandoned school and finds a local boy, a friend of his, dead on a table and rigged to explode with bombs. After cleaning up the mess, James heads to a local he believes knew the boy, and forces him at gunpoint to show him those responsible. The man drives him to a house, and then speeds away the minute James is out of the car. The house James invades is not the one he was looking for, and is instead the house of a local professor who had nothing to do with the boy’s death. While the professor invites James to calm down and have a drink, and that he’s “honored” he’s there, his wife takes an opposite approach, and throws pots and pans at James while screaming at him to get out of their house.
Maybe you don’t see what I’m going for here, so if not, I’ll spell it out for you. The boy’s death is the tragic horror of 9/11. Looking for answers, James (America) turns to a local intelligence source for answers. Instead of helping, the source gives incorrect information, which results in the invasion of the wrong house entirely (us invading Iraq despite it’s non-connection to 9/11). Inside the locals are split between scared civility and full-on rage for the desecration, and chase James (America) out with harsh words (public opinion) and pots and pans (IEDs, insurgent fighters and the like).
There’s another scene later that’s a sniper battle between James’ unit (along with a British brigade) and an insurgent sharpshooting group. The battle drags on for what seems like hours, and in the end, both sides are exhausted and many are dead on either side. I view this as a comment on the seeming endlessness of the war, and when James finally says, “I think we’re done here” I believe that’s a bit of that political analysis we thought was missing. The same could be said for one scene where James cuts the detonator to one bomb he finds buried in the desert, and then realizes it’s just one piece of a massive system of bombs in the same region. This seems to me that its a representation of the structure of our terrorist enemies, and how we thought we had one threat, then realized it was spread out in a network more vast than we could have imagined.
A picture of us getting more than we bargained for in the desert?
I don’t have analysis like this for every scene in the movie, and I will maintain that the film is often awkwardly structured and its character motivations are inconsistent, but I think I might be on to something here. You may say I’m reading too much into this, and you may be right, but just think for a second and I believe you might come to some of the same conclusions I did. And on the other hand, if you think this is a kind of “no duh, you idiot” moment for me, then that’s fair too, but it’s something I didn’t catch until this time around.
If all of this was done intentionally? I think The Hurt Locker is a lot smarter than we gave it credit for, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it pick up a few Oscars for being the best film commentary on the Iraq War to date.