Politics, War, and "The Hurt Locker"


The Hurt Locker, the tightly coiled drama of a bomb-disposal unit in Iraq, walked off with the Oscar for best picture last week, leaving the celluloid colossus Avatar in the dust. In truth, The Hurt Locker was the better film. But it was also touted as being the more genuine and honest film, the more so because it was so apolitical. Avatar, while set on another planet in a different age, was simplistically and transparently political and anti-war in the "white guilt genre". Similarly, The Hurt Locker has been compared favourably with the simplistic and political Green Zone, as a movie that was capable of nuance and complexity precisely because it was apolitical.

I want to suggest that it is nothing of the sort. While the director has denied any political agenda, the movie can clearly be viewed as a powerful allegory, and was likely written as such. It begins with the sombre warning that "war can be addictive", and the movie unfolds to depict the extent to which the main protagonist, Sgt. William James, has become addicted to the adrenalin rush of combat and bomb disposal. He becomes increasingly reckless as he seeks out new hits, and puts the lives of himself and others in danger to get his fix. The movie ends with his return to Iraq for yet another tour, after finding himself incapable of adjusting to family and civil society back home.

In the tradition of such other war movies as Indochine and the Quiet American, Sgt. James can be seen as an allegory for a country, in this case the United States - a nation that has become addicted to war, increasingly proficient but reckless in its conduct of armed conflict, and incapable of returning to mundane aspects of peaceful civil society. A country that cannot bring itself to fund health care or education, with its infrastrure falling apart, it lurches from war to war, spending more on national security than the next 20 biggest defense spenders combined, comprising more than 40% of the world's total military expenditure.

The fact that the American media keeps insisting that The Hurt Locker is "apolitical" is really rather unfortunate. It has an important point to make, but no one seems to be getting it. - Gamma



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