Monday, March 08, 2010
The Hurt Locker: Six Oscars for a propaganda war movie
In fact the movie is a deft piece of war propaganda. Its unsung assumption is that its US soldiers are in Iraq for some good purpose - no need to spell it out - and that lives are put at risk for some good reason, you fill in the blanks. Shot largely in neighbouring Jordan, its Iraqi citizens are extras to the director's focus, there to be bellowed at, moved on or suspected: they stand about staring uncomprehendingly in their rags at the principals, passive cattle to the cowboy rustlers; or wallpaper in a movie soap.
At no point does anyone say to a US soldier, "What the fuck are you doing in my country?"
The Hurt Locker stylistically is a spaghetti western without the pasta (or the western for that matter). The alpha male catalogue is picked clean of options as brooding men engage in horseplay bonding rituals when not crouched in padded suits over IEDs. Their essential characteristic is muteness. Their lack of outward drama is in inverse proportion to the risks they take. This emotional internalisation makes them pretty useless human beings, hopeless shoppers in superstores. hopeless fathers and husbands.
For they are addicted to the "rush of war ... for war is a drug." The movie makes this plain. But that's just a gloss to the real business in hand - the further movie fetishisation of machismo. Just about every Hollywood flick glams up conventional ideas of masculinity. The Hurt Locker pathologises its heroes - just as The Dark Knight unveils a troubled Batman - yet places them on an altar. It's a romantic thing to do. It's the fulfilment of our dream expectations. We can launder our relish by redressing fantasy superheroism as a sickness. And the superhero need not wear a blue cape.
How many Oscar jurors saw the movie this way? Bigelow's pretence at political objectivity was dropped in her Academy Awards acceptance speech - "I’d just like to dedicate this to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world." The Hurt Locker is about the men, not the women.
While a useless contribution to any understanding of the pathologised male as superhero, the film did at least put the wretched Avatar in the Oscars shade.