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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Hurt Locker

OMG. OMG. OMG. What's most striking about Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" isn't its action sequences -- which are low-key to begin with -- but its tense quietness. Which was really difficult for me. I have trouble sitting still, and this movie had me on my feet incessantly. This is a war movie that rarely goes "boom," an ironic choice, considering that its central character is an explosives expert. Then again, perhaps the true subject of Bigelow's movie isn't so much the war itself but human stress.
The movie follows bomb defusers in Baghdad relatively early in the war, when there was a lot of insecurity there. The things that ramp up the stress of this war--the urban setting, the proximity of civilians whose affiliations are uncertain, and the pervasive use of IED's to promote unrest are all well depicted, as is the accumulation of stress as time goes on. It was hard to watch this for 2 hours. Imagine a year in that kind of pressure cooker.

The movie opens with a statement "War is a drug." True, but that is not the only problem. True, the hypervigilence required to stay one step ahead of the enemy, to react to every movement as if it is a threat, and to gather every piece of information available so as to reduce your risk of harm takes it's toll. There is alot of adrenaline associated with that. The adrenaline is addictive, and those who thrive on it are far more likely to be high adrenaline responders (and they are probably more likely to make it out alive). But it is also true that the return home brings with it a two-fold problem. The first is the adrenaline withdrawal--but this is a stress reduction response. That passes within weeks to months, and then there is overall physiologic improvement. Mood brightens. Energy returns. But what doesn't change is that the people around you who didn't go to Iraq don't get it. They think you should put it behind you, not talk about it, and above all not change because of it. But trauma, and the stress associated with it, invariably changes you. It is impossible to turn back to clock. Those things happened and soldiers respond to them. But their friends and families cannot keep up with their pace of change. And so the soldier is drawn to returning, to a place they find acknowledges their experience, and to people who will listen to their stories.
This is an Iraq movie with a modest agenda and no obvious political views. The narrow focus, to bring the audience into the world of our men and women in uniform in Iraq, is the source of its strength. Memorable and highly recommended.

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