February issue 2010
The Psychology of War
Many directors have tried to dramatise the Iraq war, but Kathyrn Bigelow is the first to succeed. Where other directors have been unable to put aside their generally anti-war views, reducing characters to mouthpieces for their political agenda, Bigelow, withThe Hurt Locker, has produced a fascinating study on the psychological impact of war.
The Hurt Locker stars Jeremy Renner as a soldier with a specialised skill: he defuses IEDs before they explode. The job is, obviously, fraught with constant danger — Renner’s predecessor was blown up by an IED. At first, Renner seems to have the arrogance that has now become a caricature of US soldiers. Mission by mission, though, Bigelow reveals his insecurities. Renner’s outer bravado is a shield that protects him from the insanity of a job that comes with a low chance of survival.
Renner, as the hero of the movie, is shown as a good man — one who cares about the people he works with, the civilians he’s trying to protect and the family he’s left behind in the US — but he is not idealised. There are times when he, punch-drunk on the adrenaline of his job, acts as if he is invincible and there are no real-world consequences to his actions. This is particularly the case in Renner’s insensitive treatement of Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, the other members of the the three-man bomb squad, who are still reeling at the loss of their previous leader. Renner, with his brash, unthinking leadership, forgoes protocol and niceties as he leads them from one suicide mission to the next.
Unlike the fantasised violence Hollywood dishes out on a daily basis, the explosions, gunfire and car chases inThe Hurt Locker feel real. Violence in this movie has consequences; the hero can’t just shrug it off and move on to the next mission.
The Hurt Locker forgoes conventional narrative dynamics as it hurtles from one mission to the other, slowly revealing character without necessarily bothering with plot. And it is so focused on these three men that it has no larger point to make about the Iraq war. The members of the bomb squad are so preoccupied trying to survive another day, they never question the morality of the war they’re fighting. It is this reluctance to theorise on the motivations of the war that make the movie such an intense visual experience. Where other Iraq war movies have got caught up in preaching to the converted, Bigelow is only interested in telling the tale of her imperfect heroes.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.