War and meaning in “The Hurt Locker”

April 1, 2010

I REALLY want to thank you for Phil Aliff's piece, "The empty locker."

I've been a film lover for more than 40 years and politically active since the 70's, and while I've never been in a formal war zone, I had many of the same thoughts about this movie as Phil, though without the details that direct experience has provided him.

Just on the aesthetic level, it was not an Oscar-worthy movie. Hands down, it was the least well-made "film of the year" of any I can recall, and I pretty well can think of all of them.

I didn't see all of the nominated movies, but I got much more out of the Coen brothers' A Serious Man, for example, than The Hurt Locker.

The use of the quote from Chris Hedges' book War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, while expressing, as Phil wrote, some truth relative to the characters in the film, really does disservice to the book which is antiwar in spirit--while the film is not.

I actually felt the film to be pro-war, even while graphically depicting some of war's more gruesome realities. The scene where they lose their partner and then go try to recover him; the scene in the desert with Ralph Fiennes, when they're temporarily pinned down--this is the stuff of "cowboy and Indian" mythology. We know--because we're told--who the good guys are supposed to be.

I even got a sense from director Kathryn Bigelow that she believed in the war in Iraq. In her acceptance speech at the Oscars she said how much she was for the troops, how she hopes "they come home safe."

When she began that sentence, my mind was ahead of her, planning to hear her say "...come home soon."

But no, she said "...come home safe," a very safe thing to say, indeed, and a statement that gives no recognition to the fact that huge numbers of soldiers haven't and won't come home safe.

Now there's a disconnect unworthy of an artist, which any great filmmaker is. I think in Kathryn Bigelow's case, war is a force that has given her money, fame and little else.

Finally I also observed that this would have been a much better film if it had been the story of what war does to a person. The soldier's home life--more distant psychically than physically--is all too briefly counterposed to the booze-drenched boredom, horror and fever-pitch of war.

This, I feel, would have been the most fertile ground for a great film, but it was left unexplored in favor of a walk down glory road.
Jeff Weinberger, Plantation, Fla.

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