Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why "The Hurt Locker" deserves to win; an argument

A continuing series of brief reflections about this year's Best Picture nominees.

At this point in the game, The Hurt Locker has won a significant number of precursor awards. It's the frontrunner, the film to beat (and with the preferential ballot system, the prospect of it getting beat is definitely out there). But more than its consummate technical skill, the array and discipline of which should net director Bigelow a historical Academy Award (not to mention a few tech awards), but for me to discuss the merits of its editing, sound and design would be detrimental at this stage.

Why The Hurt Locker deserves to win this award extends far beyond its merits as a "good" or "bad" movie. In recent weeks, some publications - LA Times and Newsweek - have been pushing for backlash, getting the military's take on why Hurt Locker is not an accurate reflection of the Iraq War and therefore not a good movie. Bollocks. No one ever said The Hurt Locker was reality. In the words of the great theorist Christian Metz, "Every film is a fiction film." Film isn't reality, it's a representation derived from reality.

Watching Hurt Locker, it's very clear it's not a realistic film, but it plays with the idea of realism. The sniper scene, the opening bomb defusion, the scene with the bombs in the trunk - all of these are, on the surface, VERY real moments. They are choreographed in what feels like blistering real time, but Bigelow and her team gradually push this into a HYPER-realism, a distension of time and space that makes not only realize the stakes but confront the confused and impossible nature of the war as a whole.

The Hurt Locker is the film America needs about the Iraq War. It will be, barring a film on the level of Apocalypse Now, the defining statement on the US involvement - precisely because it is so apolitical. It offers us a trio of soldiers with competing ideologies about war, combat and etiquette. They are Hawksian heroes, forced to confront the merits of themselves through personal anguish and interaction. As the New York Times pointed out in its review of the film, it's a rethink of group combat films, or rather an extension of them into Iraq.

The Hurt Locker is not an action film - it's a meditation. It may have gritty, unbearable moments, but the saga of Will James is about our dependency on war. Not its negative effects, not its positive effects, but its cyclical, addictive nature. Will's concerns are not his, not the nation's, but humanity's in general. We are violent creatures, propelled by our unconscious stirs towards commanding and conquering; "war is a drug," and The Hurt Locker is about drug addicts. It wants us to think about what guerrilla combat means. It's above any argument about realism/accuracy. It's not a reconstruction; it's a construction of the moments between life and death, of the dangerous simultaneity of combat and the elusiveness of fighting something without a face. The Hurt Locker is, above all else, compelling cinema. It's a war film, but in the tradition of the best war films, it's about the souls of men trying to understand why they act the way they do.

For Your Consideration - The Hurt Locker.

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