‘The Hurt Locker’ at Memorial Union

WUD Film‘s got another good one lined up for us this weekend at Memorial Union’s Play Circle Theater: Katheryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2009), which, as the 2.5 regular followers of this blog might remember, I regard as being one of 2009’s highest cinematic achievements. The screenings will be held on both Friday and Saturday nights, at 7:00PM and 9:30PM. If you haven’t seen The Hurt Locker yet, you really ought to consider attending one of these four screenings, if only because this may be one of your last opportunities to see the film on 35mm. Looks like the Cardinal’s website no longer has the review I wrote when the film was released in July, but nevertheless, here it is, in all its copy-and-pasted glory:


“The Hurt Locker”, the eighth feature directed by Kathryn Bigelow, opened this past Friday at the Sundance and Marcus Point Cinemas here in Madison. It’s almost certainly the most horrifying film released thus far in 2009, a coarse meditation on war and militaristic occupation, so encrusted with dust and dried blood that you can’t help but walk away feeling like you ought to take a shower with your clothes on. The film is one of 2009’s truly remarkable works, and this is coming from someone who typically can’t stand war films (with a handful of exceptions, of course).

The narrative of “The Hurt Locker” consists of a series of incredibly tense episodes, tracking a US Army bomb squad as it struggles with a variety of deadly puzzles in contemporary Baghdad. The young dudes who comprise the squad and serve as the film’s protagonists are disillusioned, mentally and physically spent, more than just a little bit on-the-DL (a drunken wrestling match between the black Sergeant Sanborn and the white Sergeant James cleverly blends manifest racism with big-time homoeroticism, all under the guise of macho play), and inexplicably pithy. The psychic states of these young men are fully explained by the substance of their everyday lives: casualty-heavy ambushes in the deserts outside Baghdad, nearly impossible situations involving escalating quantities of homemade explosives, and the less violent but equally contentious relationships they share with the native Iraqis.

The soldiers’ perpetually unsettled mode of existence is expressed by the film’s combination of rapid montage and erratic handheld cinematography. Such a frenetic approach to découpage is typical of today’s American cinema, yet “The Hurt Locker” doesn’t employ these techniques to make its subject matter more sensational or sexy—rather, they allow the film’s form to match the jarring nature of its content. The subject matter is often quite traumatic: civilians blown to smithereens, children murdered and turned into corpse-bombs, soldiers vaporized by hidden explosives, etc. “The Hurt Locker” achieves harmony between its visual style and the violence of its subject matter in a way which no other film about the Iraq War has been able to. It effectively suggests that an aesthetic of gruesomeness may be necessary for artists to make sense of this unspeakably violent world of ours.

Though some critics have taken issue with the film’s supposed lack of an explicit political message, it’s not too difficult to abstract a few things that “The Hurt Locker” seems to be saying. First, war is hell, but you already knew that; the extent of war’s hellishness is the thing which manages to surprise (several of the film’s sequences are nearly unwatchable). Second, the US soldiers serving in Iraq are pawns in a game whose ultimate spoils hardly concern them but whose immediate consequences make everything they do potentially lethal. Third, most or at least many of the soldiers are psychologically affected by that horrible truth. Fourth, Iraqi insurgents are, apparently, cinematic brethren of the villainous Indians of so many American westerns (this aspect of the film is somewhat bothersome, though I don’t know what else could have been done to present terrorism with a human face).

While “The Hurt Locker” sometimes comes off as a stylized take on a brutal reality, it never ceases to ask crucial questions, to show what has not been shown previously, to upset its audience by merely reporting the facts. It’s an important film precisely because it locates some of the most extreme horrors of modern existence in a situation which feels a bit like a distant nightmare despite being all-too-present. “The Hurt Locker” is nothing short of a history of now.

(For good measure, here’s a link to the trailer.)

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One Response to “‘The Hurt Locker’ at Memorial Union”

  1. The Top Nine of ‘09 « CineMadison Says:

    […] The Hurt Locker – Find my DC review reproduced here. I stand by most of what I said about this film last summer, but I think it’s also worth […]

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