The Hurt Locker: Film Review and Analysis

In an era of the Internet, in the age of sound bites, and in the world of texts that collapse the meaning of words into a single letter or two; where the bombardment of information ceaselessly flows, the ability to analyze, synthesize, and correctly processing information becomes ever more crucially important.  How does one begin, for example, to assess what does it all mean when two billion people worldwide were expected to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Before one could even absorb, assess, and analyze such a phenomenon, there comes the death of Osama bin Laden, by his own admission, the mastermind of 9/11 attacks that forever changed the way Americans live their lives. Those images of the two passenger planes flying into the twin towers in New York City are emblazoned in our collective memory just as are the three thousand innocent people who perished in the attack. Optics and their mosaic offshoots such as documentaries and films will play a central role – now more than ever – in an attempt to give viewers a comprehensive picture of events.

The Hurt Locker was released in 2009 but I happened to watch it in 2011 when the two above events were taking place. At any rate, The Hurt Locker is such an important film whose director, Kathryn Bigelow, explosively plays with the optical illusion so effectively that a viewer can’t help but stay on the edge of one’s seat. The weaving of this mosaic story is about three soldiers whose job it is to detonate and defuse bombs that were planted by the insurgents during the war in Iraq – at the height of the insurgency, in 2004. This article will examine the emblazoning of the words of “WAR IS DRUG” that one sees at the start of the movie. The metaphor of war as a drug just does not hold because it works against the going theme in the movie of emotional connections, of professionalism, and of the caring nature that the three soldiers exhibit toward one another and to the civilian population of Iraq.

A good flick can immerse a viewer in the entanglements of the main characters in the one-hundred-thirty-minutes journey of the viewing experience. Through the three professional soldiers in the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit, “The Hurt Locker” locks the three main characters by giving the viewer the raw emotions, trepidations, and the taunts of war as they go about doing the dangerous job of defusing or detonating the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The first such attempt at detonation ends up blowing the team leader named Thompson because of the indecisiveness of one of the three members of the team. Had Eldridge acted decisively and shot the insurgent he would have saved Thompson. Through the first IED that went awry a viewer begins to see Eldridge’s subsequent indecisive actions and the psychological problems he seems to be exhibiting for which he receives help from a trained soldier named Cambridge. This is most certainly not a case of a psychedelic hit of LSD. The Eldridge’s case is one of disorientation due to the horrors of war. Therefore, it can hardly fit the “war is drug” metaphor.

The second team member is Sanborn, a professional soldier who wants to do his job and return home alive. The death of Thompson rattles some of Sanborn’s nerves but maintains his levelheaded persona until the new team leader’s arrival; James is dispatched to replace the deceased Thompson. On the first job to defuse/detonate James clearly wants to establish that he is the leader and Sanborn will have to learn to respect that. In such an effort, James chooses to do his job with his own hands and heeds no ears to Sanborn’s suggestion of using the remote-controlled device that could possibly accomplish the task. The frustrating alliance between the two soldiers begins in earnest. After two successive and successful defusing of bombs, Sanborn and James begin to develop emotional connections to one another. After one particular, intense bomb defusing experience the three soldiers are shown to have alcohol drinks with James and Sanborn playing kickboxing each other while Eldridge serves as the referee. Finally, the game begins to reach a climax when James pummels Sanborn and acts like he is riding a wild horse in a “horse-playing” manner with James’s crotch right on the face of Sanborn. Sanborn manages to whip out a knife pointing it right at James’s neck while James is still on top of Sanborn. A viewer is caught in a state of intense curiosity whether the scene is going to climax in “Broke Mountain” moment or “Make My Day?” The game, however, subsided and James eased away from Sanborn’s face, immediately thereafter, James and Eldridge are seen assisting Sanborn by safely delivering him to his room due to his drunken stupor, he could hardly walk without wobbling. This was an act of camaraderie among soldiers that cared about each other. The complexity of war is encapsulated in this one scene. No matter how out of hand things might seem, soldiers took care of one another. This act of caring amongst the three soldiers goes against all sensibilities of calling “war is drug.”

Leadership sometimes requires that a team leader sets boundaries by upping the ante so that credibility is established. James’s character is shown as someone who can go beyond the call of duty when necessary to accomplish the task. Prima facie, it may appear to James’s partners, Eldridge and Sanborn, whom they refer James as “rowdy” and “reckless” respectively. However, James’s decisiveness is one of the hallmark characteristics that keeps him emotionally sound and physically unscathed. For example, James leads Sanborn and Eldridge into an intense firefight after a bomb was detonated by insurgents; the team could not find any traces of suicide bomber. Sanborn clearly wants to leave the scene implying that their job was to detonate/defuse and not go after phantom insurgents who may be lurking in the dark alleys of Baghdad. James, however, reasons by stating that he was not going to let anybody laugh at them in the dark alley while they capitulate to the lame excuses of attributing the bombing to suicide bomber when there is no solid evidence. Thus, James authorizes that they go after the insurgents and fight, for he wants to eliminate the insurgency at every possible opportunity. Now, this brave and bold initiative may not be what other soldiers in James’s position would do. One can hardly attribute this beyond the call of duty action, however, to anything resembling of a junky in the need for a fix. Leadership, team spirit, and good-naturedness need not be defined in a commonly inferred normal circumstance. Extraordinary circumstances call for unique perspectives that defy the normal circumstance definitions and metaphors. As a team leader, James’s character shows several initiatives in which not only he risks his life but those who are in his team. One example will suffice for illustration. James as a leader readily responded to the request of helping hand to the strangers who were stranded with a flat tire in the desert. The simple gesture of kindness ends in a long drawn out sniper shootout – that’s what happens in a war zone. An unexpected turn of events could turn a simple gesture of kindness into a dangerously close call of death.

The fast-moving information age, where news vis-à-vis images, sound bites, and texts can prevent someone from making accurate assessments because of their rapid nature of dislodging information. Movies and documentaries must be given ample room to bring forth stories that allow for comprehensive assessments. In the movie, “The Hurt Locker,” Director Kathryn Bigelow brings a fresh perspective on war and its consequences through the three characters that embodied the gamut in psychological terms. In Eldridge, a viewer sees a young man who is perturbed by the deaths of fellow soldiers to some of whom he feels responsible for their demise. In Sanborn, one sees an epitome of a professional soldier who does not want to commit himself anything beyond the call of duty but shows respect to authority and delivers when asked by his team leader such as James. In James, a viewer sees a young man who understands his job well; that his job of detonation and/or defusing bombs means that he can perish in a split of a second. This kind of highly dangerous post requires a psychological makeup that is diametrically opposite from the normal circumstances, thus giving James clarity and decisiveness that one does not see in the other two soldiers that he closely works with. Therefore, to insinuate that James, Sanborn, and Eldridge are on adrenaline rush much like drug addicts in search of a fix by emblazoning of the words, “war is drugs” at the beginning of the movie is to miss the whole point. Such phrasing goes against the going theme of the movie. The movie shows three soldiers who go on their daily challenges of detonating and/or defusing bombs placing their lives in harm’s way every minute of the day and night to save the lives of civilian Iraqis as well as those of their own.


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