Since seeing Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, I've more or less been at a loss for words. The film doesn't have the formalist chops to be instantly appreciated as art necessarily, but its bizarre structure, episodic and jagged, complete with wrenching set pieces at various moments of war battle, more than succeeds as an object of appreciation. In fact, The Hurt Locker, at this moment, stands alone as the first seemingly genuine film about the Iraq War to date (and quite possibly a masterpiece), which is to say not bogged down with using its characters as pawns for political purpose or portraying the war as anything but days and years of experienced existential dread.
Make no mistake, however, The Hurt Locker is deeply political, not needing to use horrendous policies like stop-loss to prove the horror of the war. Despite this, claims of the film's apolitical nature have popped up, and within reason, that point of view is understandable. To understand the purpose of Bigelow's careful and airtight politics is to askew the political discourse that preceded and proceeded the Iraq War, which itself was one of the most suffocatingly anti-intellectual moments in recent memory. Samuel Fuller, filmmaker and WWII veteran, said that "surviving is the only glory in war" and this is the essence of Bigelow's argument: the characters who do survive war are the true messengers. The dead, and there are plenty in The Hurt Locker, are the result of the lack of hubris and perhaps misunderstanding of the mission itself, which even the writers of the war couldn't get straight. A botched philosophy which can only be continued in people with survivalist tendencies and a rugged independence, divorced from the effects of war and the emotions one carries from it. Jonathan Rosenbaum hits the nail on the head:
This is a film whose most courageous character is shown to be myopic to the point of insanity when it comes to perceiving Iraqi people in his midst — or at least one Iraqi kid in particular whom he supposedly knows and has some fondness for. He’s so convinced that this kid has been killed by a terrorist that he can’t even see the kid greeting him. This kind of blindness surely implies something about American perceptions of the Iraqi people, the ones whom American soldiers have allegedly been fighting for. It even, I would argue, implies something political.So, I hope to have more to say on this film in the coming months, but please catch it while you can.