One of the defining features of blogging is the insta-rant — the opinion committed at the speed of typing not just to words but to global distribution, totally outflanking any temperate second thoughts. As someone who usually takes months if not years to declare any piece of writing finished, that idea is sounding pretty cathartic to me right now, and thus I will subject you to my feelings about Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker
, which I finally saw last night.
From a compositional point of view, it's stunningly well directed. I'll remember that overhead shot of Jeremy Renner pulling on the wire that produces six unexploded bombs from a pile of street rubble, or the later one of him standing helplessly in the cereal aisle, for a long time. Still, there was something gnawing at me all through the film, and by the time it was over I realized that there is something fundamentally off about not just The Hurt Locker but war movies in general, or at least pretty much every war movie since 1986's Platoon. The fact that Bigelow's characters' lives are in constant danger is treated as an existential dilemma, which it is not. They have traveled to a foreign place where they are so unwelcome that people are constantly trying to kill them: the primary question in these characters' lives, then, would seem to be "Why are they there?" It's not that Bigelow doesn't consider that question worth answering — it's that she doesn't even consider it a question. These men are on a series of "missions," and that is all you need to know. War is invoked not as a conflict involving right or wrong but as a first principle of the characters' existence. Maybe that technique seemed edgy back when Michael Herr wrote Dispatches in 1977, but now it just seems frustratingly lazy. I should say that this has nothing whatsoever to do with whether I (or anyone) supports or opposes the war in Iraq. The don't-ask-don't-tell approach to plot and character that The Hurt Locker relies on to set itself in motion doesn't offend me politically. It offends me as a storyteller.
There! That felt good. And speaking of war, I am off in just a few hours to historic Gettysburg, to read from The Privileges and answer questions and drink with my excellent friend Fred, who is responsible for the whole endeavor. A report from the battlefield later this week.