Monday, March 08, 2010

The Hurt Locker: Six Oscars for a propaganda war movie

When Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker was first released last year, much was made of its detachment from the politics of Iraq's 2004 post-invasion period. Because it didn't play The Star-Spangled Banner everytime a US bomb disposal squaddie swaggered out to unpick yet more enemy street ordnance, it was thought apolitical - especially by compliant film critics who pasted phrases from the press packs into their reviews.

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.

29 comments:

Ron Broxted said...

Best war films? Cross of Iron/Come and see/Ice Cold in Alex.

Madame Arcati said...

Inglourious Basterds, by far the best.

The late Pauline Kael said...

Another way of looking at it is: Avatar makes $4bn, The Hurt Locker makes 10p. It's obvious who's most deserving of Oscars.

gb said...

For all its faults, Avatar at least made no bones about articulating (often clumsily and tackily) a point about invading, occupying and destroying for the sake of the resources one side wants that the other has the misfortune to be sat on top of.

Madame Arcati said...

True. Not a message Hollywood wants to hear too loudly right now. And my problem with Avatar is much more to do with the Murdoch press' shameless promotion of their master's movie. That it did relatively poorly against hope could be an early measure of the Murdoch empire's waning influence - I'm thinking now also of the Tory wobbles after the Murdoch papers gave their support.

Anonymous said...

Love the anti-Parsons diatribe.

Anonymous said...

Yes yes yes!

Anonymous said...

Well done MA. The only reviewer to articulate the obvious.

Anonymous said...

I have written to imdb.com complaining about this piece. I have asked that they remove the link.

Randy Handwarmer said...

What the HELL has this got to do with Kevin Spacey?

Neil said...

I haven't yet seen Hurt Locker as it's not yet been released where I live. Anyway, the point I want to make is that I don't believe Bigelow's dedication of the Oscar to serving serviceman and women around the world somehow represents propaganda in support of the war in Iraq or anywhere else.

Like many others, I'm extremely uncomfortable with the ongoing military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I send my heartfelt best wishes to all military personnel who are there and to the families who have lost loved ones in such wretched campaigns.

I don't believe it's mutually exclusive to be against these campaigns, but supportive of the men and women who are out there on the front line. I suspect Bigelow was merely making the same point.

By all means criticise the film, but I think that accusing her of some kind of pro-war propaganda on the basis of dedicating her Oscar to military personnel is to manipulate her words and sentiments.

Madame Arcati said...

Don't be naive Neil. If a director dedicates her award to one side of the war, and ignores the other, what are we supposed to think? What if she had said, "I dedicate all my Oscars to all of the people who have lost their lives in the Iraq invasion and occupation - American, Iraqi and the rest"? Do you imagine she would have got a standing ovation? This kind of partiality is what I am talking about. The Hurt Locker is a clever piece of special pleading about "superheroes" - and you can't have macho superheroes without fatalities.

Anonymous said...

I heard about this blog in Australia. Friends told me it was vicious and potty. Now I see what they meant. Why don't you fuck off somewhere and die.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Many of the people who rave about this incredibly boring movie are the first to denounce Bush and Blair who got us into this mess in the first place. Most film critics are airheads and the Oscars are a pathetic joke.

Anonymous said...

Golly. They're talking about Arcati in Australia !.

The fix was in and it was appalling of Bigelow to "dedicate" her win to the invaders. As for the scumbags who voted for this film, they lost all credibility. The propaganda has been successful and Hollywood has rehabilitated the USA in the eyes of the world when a few years ago Michael Moore told the truth.

Elspeth Fulch said...

Make up your mind, Anonymous! You're stunningly contrary!

Anonymous said...

"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."

Classic Victorama

veritas said...

Madame is correct in her analysis and one should read the Huffington Post that rips into this tawdry piece of film-making, especially the comments from former US servicemen that this movie purports to depict.

How bizrre that it should emerge during the Chilcot Inquiry that will probably end up distorting the truth as well.

US fan said...

An excellent review of The Hurt Locker and brutal analysis of its politics and agenda. In a few expertly chosen words the movie is laid bare. America is in self-comforting mode right now after the horrors of Bush. It is a great irony that a work of much artistic competence has sneakily won a lot of Bush-haters round to the causes of Iraq and Afghanistan, by seeming to cutting out the politics and - as MA says - fixating on sick American heroes.

Lavinia said...

Darling, you know nothing about war and you are struggling out of your depth so stop being an embarrassment and please move on to something more you.

Madame Arcati said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madame Arcati said...

Darling Lavinia, you mean you disagree with me. And should we call you field marshal? Madame moves on when she's ready.

The late Lord Cardigan said...

What does this Lavinia know about war? And what qualifies you to know about war? She sounds like a war-mongering cunt.

Lavinia said...

No, really, darling, there are serious issues here which you simply cannot grasp. I'm sorry but it's true.

Madame Arcati said...

Naturally poppet - you disagree with me. No need to wear stilts.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, this film was not released with the tag line:

"War is hell...and this summer, hell's gonna get a whole lot hotter!"

Cue shredding guitar chords and women's white t-shirts being sprayed by shaken beer cans.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Lavinia knows about war but does she know about war films ?

Madame Arcati said...

My suspicion is that Lavinia is Capt Mainwaring.

Anonymous said...

Perfectly Said ....