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"It offers no explanations, no apologies and only a thin patina of regret."
December 1, 2009 8:39 PM   Subscribe

Kathryn Bigelow's 2009 feature film The Hurt Locker, tells the story of a U.S. military bomb squad in Iraq. Hurt Locker has been critically praised as "the best American feature made yet about the war in Iraq." But historian Marilyn Young, who's written and spoken widely on the Vietnam War(s) and their similarities to the current conflict in Iraq, argues in a blistering review that the film is "a video game of a movie, or war as a video game."

Bigelow wrote the film with freelance writer Mark Boal, whose 2004 article "Death and Dishonor" exposed the failures of military health care for veterans with PTSD and was adapted into a film, In the Valley of Elah,which Young sees as a much more persuasive and honest depiction of war.

(Her critical essay is part of a series, Masters and the Movies, curated by the American Historical Association and published in its member magazine Perspectives on History.)
posted by liketitanic (97 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ten years ago, the film would've been marketed as a summer action movie. Bigelow has one of the most unerring instincts for action in Hollywood today.

But, seriously, I don't know where Young's coming from with the idea that the film offers nothing to speak to the "seduction of violence" Hedges talks about. James's entire arc is about how his experiences have made him nearly incapable of functioning in any environment other than that of the bomb squad, and of the war as a whole. He's not only been seduced by violence, he keeps coming back after it destroys him as a functional person.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:47 PM on December 1, 2009 [13 favorites]


In some ways The Hurt Locker is a 21st-century Triumph of the Will.

Well geez, that's one way to start your review. Godwin FTW.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 8:55 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


what fairytale said
posted by gonna get a dog at 8:59 PM on December 1, 2009


War is increasingly a video game.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:08 PM on December 1, 2009


I'm with fairytale of los angeles. Young clearly brought her own biases to her viewing (impossible not to) and let them distort what was before her. What she accuses the film of doing to its viewers (or trying to do) is what the war does to its central character!

Young writes as if Bigelow celebrates James' return to Iraq, which is not the case at all.

I saw the film about 15 months ago and again in February of this year and both times I thought it was near perfect. I believe it is one scene too long (the final scene, which was redundant after the grocery store scene). It is easily the best American film of 2008 (when I saw it) and, along with A Serious Man, it is the best American film of 2009.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:08 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a helluva pointed and interesting review there. Thanks for the pointer. I'll watch Hurt Locker with it in mind.
posted by mediareport at 9:10 PM on December 1, 2009


I didn't care for the film all that much. I didn't feel that I was asked to think.
The characters and theme and propaganda are pretty much served on a plate. Yeah, it had that TV special/video game quality.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:10 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I didn't care for the film all that much. I didn't feel that I was asked to think.

Why would it? As fairytale pointed out, it's an action movie (albeit one that was marketed as an art film.)
posted by Rangeboy at 9:14 PM on December 1, 2009


Argh, what everyone else said. That would be a fair review if movies endorsed everything that they showed.
posted by SoftRain at 9:14 PM on December 1, 2009


When I saw the comparison to Triumph of the Will in the first sentence, I almost stopped reading. To compare an independent film about the Iraq war to a piece of Nazi propaganda isn't just hyperbolic, its sophomoric, as if she knew that her argument wouldn't hold weight and needed to provide a little bit of shock value to kick things off.

But I went ahead and read the rest of the "review." I put that in scare quotes, because this really isn't a review, its a political hatchet job of the worst kind. Young's entire argument can be boiled down to one simple complaint: Bigelow's film does not have the underlying political message that I think it should have, it is not the movie that I would have made (if I were a director rather than a history professor), therefore it is terrible. The approach is transparent and repetitive:

"Americans are the targets of bombs rather than the ones who drop the bombs." [and an Iraq war movie must show Americans dropping bombs]

"No Iraqi civilians are killed by an American hand." [and an Iraq war movie must show Americans killing]

"the unit shoots only at Iraqis who shoot back." [and an Iraq war movie must must show defenseless Iraqis]

"The Hurt Locker is the perfect Iraq war movie, allowing the audience to support the troops without needing to wonder whether they should be fighting there in the first place." [and an Iraq war movie must force viewers to question the reasons for going to war]

"It offers no explanations, no apologies" [and an Iraq war movie must offer explanations and apologies]

I am fairly certain that I would agree with Young's politics and her critical view of the Iraq War in general; where I part ways with her is that I can enjoy films that aren't directly in line with my politics. I would love to see a movie that presented a sophisticated, critical assessment of the causes and consequences of the war. The fact that The Hurt Locker isn't that movie doesn't make it a bad movie, just a different one. The film made me think about soldiers and war in terms that I hadn't thought about them before, which I am grateful for. Too bad that Young didn't have enough of an open mind to assess the film in any way other than its departure from the message she wanted to hear.
posted by googly at 9:15 PM on December 1, 2009 [34 favorites]


Young missed a terrific opportunity to throw out Truffaut's famous "there is no such thing as an anti-war movie" quip. She may very well be unaware of it.

I don't think she quite gets Hurt Locker's strategy. By not passing comment on the main character's actions, we see how he *is* amazing, entranced by war, destroyed by war, addicted to war, capable of daring, capable of heroism, capable of criminal foolishness, and driven to further madness still. It's complicated, and the imagery and pageantry of war is right there as well, such as with the impressed superior who rolls in at one point. There's very little handholding in the movie with regard to how we're supposed to feel about the main character. It's a character study, not a tract, let alone a political tract. I think it's richer for it, but it does leave it open to interpretations, such as Young's, which to my mind not only miss the point, but also ignore significant swaths of the movie's story. On the other hand, getting to Truffaut's point, as well what part of Young's point is, any well-made war movie can make war seem exciting. The Hurt Locker certainly does.

This is part of what's interesting about getting historians to discuss films. Hurt Locker is, in its own way, a very sophisticated bit of audiovisual storytelling, where much of what it makes it a fine movie is in the subtext. To deal with it, you have to engage with it as a series of images making up its own reality, and not as a position paper or as a supposed historical document.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:19 PM on December 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


A movie about a war of adventure where the invaders are depicted consistently as the victims of the civilian populace that they occupy? As a premise for a film it makes no fucking sense. If we are being oppressed by the evil Iraqi civilians, we can just go ahead and leave already.
posted by idiopath at 9:24 PM on December 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


Her opinion does a disservice to both Hurt Locker, and video games.
posted by smoke at 9:30 PM on December 1, 2009


idiopath - I think you err when you substitute the United States for the characters in the movie. I won't use the term oppressed but these specific young men certainly are under fire from the civilian populace. Whatever brought them to Iraq in the first place doesn't change the fact that they are there now and given the rules of the military they can't exactly just 'leave already" without ending up in jail.
posted by Sandor Clegane at 9:35 PM on December 1, 2009


“It is impossible to know war if you do not stand with the mass of the powerless caught in its maw. (quoting Chris Hedges from the Marilyn Young critique)

This says it all as far as I'm concerned. That is, regardless of how grim, graphic, horrific the portrayal, as long as we tell war stories from the perspective of the combatants (ie: the intense young men lugging all those cool weapons), they're always going to come across as exciting, maybe not overtly, but definitely subvertly. Witness the likes of Apocalypse Now and Black Hawk Down being "required viewing" for all the eager young combatants who were off to take down Saddam back in 03. They were digging the edgy darkness in those movies; they were mainlining it.

googly: Young's entire argument can be boiled down to one simple complaint: Bigelow's film does not have the underlying political message that I think it should have, it is not the movie that I would have made (if I were a director rather than a history professor), therefore it is terrible.

Well put ... and yet I agree. War is where I get political. It's a fucking scar across an innocent child's face. It is the worst thing that we humans do. The only war movie I'm willing to take seriously MUST have this as its underlying theme.
posted by philip-random at 9:35 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is part of what's interesting about getting historians to discuss films. Hurt Locker is, in its own way, a very sophisticated bit of audiovisual storytelling, where much of what it makes it a fine movie is in the subtext. To deal with it, you have to engage with it as a series of images making up its own reality, and not as a position paper or as a supposed historical document.

Oh man, what a great point. I guess Young would probably say that it is a historical document--that, particularly, the ways reviewers responded constitute historical documentation--in the sense that it does draw on, can't help but draw on, current images and ideas about the war in Iraq. "Its own reality" isn't independent from the sociopolitical context it's emerging from. So no, a film about Iraq need not do any of the things Young thinks it should, but I suspect she'd say that it's virtually impossible to argue for the film as a piece of art that doesn't engage with, and in turn produce and reproduce, certain ways of thinking about (or not thinking about) the war in Iraq for the audience.

Now, I'm not saying I agree with the review necessarily. I haven't seen the film, but now I want to. I'm interested in this larger question of how art can/cannot constitute historical evidence.
posted by liketitanic at 9:38 PM on December 1, 2009


It's impossible to make a movie about war without glamourizing war.

While not exactly a war movie, this simple fact probably influenced Lanzmann's approach to Shoah.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:46 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Its own reality" isn't independent from the sociopolitical context it's emerging from.

Yup. Otherwise, you're in Rambo territory. If it's fantasy you want, fine. Do fantasy. But if it's set in a real war in a real place "ripped from the headlines", then I call foul on cultural product that won't take on the truth of the situation, that won't bow to it. Otherwise, it's f***ing propaganda.
posted by philip-random at 9:49 PM on December 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Saw it. Good film. Not as good as Generation Kill.
posted by mark242 at 9:51 PM on December 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


So no, a film about Iraq need not do any of the things Young thinks it should, but I suspect she'd say that it's virtually impossible to argue for the film as a piece of art that doesn't engage with, and in turn produce and reproduce, certain ways of thinking about (or not thinking about) the war in Iraq for the audience.

I agree with you. What I meant earlier by The Hurt Locker not being a "historical document" was that it is not a movie setting out to sum up what the Iraq War is, what was just and unjust about it, what the political backdrop was, what the Americans did, what the diverse factions of Iraq did, etc. Young is right to observe that it takes place in an Iraq War with no past or future - it exists simply in a state of War, and the movie is fairly uninterested in dissecting the Iraq War as a political event. I don't think this is a deficiency, however. I think The Hurt Locker does a very good job of painting the portrait of a man who will be hailed as a hero, and who is, in some respects, a hero, but he is also a madman and a human being with relatable foibles, and also how much of his "heroism" simply comes from an adrenalin addiction. I'll tread carefully because I don't want to spoil it for you, but one of my favorite little moments in the movie is when he commits an act of astonishing "bravery", but not for any concrete purpose outside of the fact that he wants to do it. He saves no lives with this particular action - he just does, because that is what he wants to do, for his adrenalin addiction and for his own reputation.

The Hurt Locker certainly is a historical document in the way you describe. I think it holds up well in this regard as well. Bigelow is not interested in plumbing the history of the Iraq War - you can get that from other sources. What she presents is a generally fair portrait of how one person can exist to basically personify War. He's good at it (except when he's irresponsibly endangering his fellow soldiers) - he loves it (except when it drives him to brief but vivid nervous breakdowns) - and it is all he can do for any sustained period of time.

Think about the cheerleading that went into America's invasion of Iraq. I think Bigelow's movie speaks more to why that idea had seemed so appealing to many Americans than a straight-up political treatise would have, because the public push behind the Iraq invasion wasn't really spurred by any coherent political strategy, beyond then-flimsy, now-known-to-be-false connections between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein and a general desire to "kick some Middle Eastern ass" after 9/11, especially after the perception that the Gulf War had been a turkey shoot. These were gut-level reactions that will repeat themselves throughout humanity again and again. Civilians think war is exciting - heroes are brave - it shows America at is best - others enlist in the army for the excitement - or because they want to show they love their country - or they could use the scratch - or for a variety of other reasons - it's all pretty complicated.

I think that, because The Hurt Locker addresses this psychological aspect of people's perceptions of war as a general force, as opposed to addressing the political background of the Iraq War as an event unto itself, it is actually a stronger and potentially longer-lived movie than the sort of political treatise Young says she wants to see.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:57 PM on December 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sandor Clegane: "Whatever brought them to Iraq in the first place doesn't change the fact that they are there now and given the rules of the military they can't exactly just 'leave already" without ending up in jail."

And what does a citizen of Baghdad do, if she wants out? Does she have the option as desirable as the prospects of an American soldier with a dishonorable discharge?

To cry foul when a person has political objections to a movie about the most important political events of our time is arrogant. To tell the story of an occupation in a way which depicts the occupiers as victims of the occupied is blatant and vile propaganda.
posted by idiopath at 9:57 PM on December 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


It's impossible to make a movie about war without glamourizing war.

Thanks, KokuRyu. It's that simple. The few exceptions that come to mind are things like Shoah, maybe Full Metal Jacket (particularly the first hour that never gets out of boot camp), and Come And See, which I've only heard about and am, quite frankly, afraid to see based on clips such as this ... You are warned.

Again, it's not about the combatants.
posted by philip-random at 10:02 PM on December 1, 2009


But if it's set in a real war in a real place "ripped from the headlines", then I call foul on cultural product that won't take on the truth of the situation, that won't bow to it.

Fair enough. Some honest questions:

What do (or would) you think about Das Boot?

In what ways would you say The Hurt Locker differs from Battleship Potemkin as a piece of propaganda?

If The Hurt Locker is propaganda, what specifically would you say its message is? To what extent would you say this propagandist quality is intentional?

If you've seen The Hurt Locker, how do you square the "main character goes off on a personal mission" sequence with what the movie's propagandist message is?
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:08 PM on December 1, 2009


It sounds like Young doesn't like Hurt Locker because it doesn't match her politics or opinion on how war should be portrayed. She seems to think that all war movies must offer explanations, apologies, and regret — but that's a reflection of her politics, and she seems to be viewing almost everything through the lens of Vietnam. That's not a viewpoint that's necessarily universal, or even familiar (in the case of the Vietnam 'lens') to soldiers I have met in the current conflict environment.

She seems to take on premise that war films should "engag[e] the futility of war," seemingly never considering that those engaged in war may not agree with her assessment of its futility, and someone making a war film that honestly depicts the attitudes of those involved may not support her point of view — but might nonetheless still be 'honest.'

The challenge of the war filmmaker is, in many cases, reconciling reality with expectations. In the post-Vietnam era, that meant reconciling soldiers' experiences with the expectations of a public raised on morally unambiguous images of World War II and Korea. Today, those Vietnam films have, in part anyway, actually set expectations, and there are a number of filmmakers who seem to be trying to reconcile the gap that now goes in the opposite direction — Jarhead comes to mind.

I haven't seen HL yet (waiting on Netflix), but I've seen nothing in any reviews — Young's included — that makes it seem dishonest. If we as Americans don't like what we see, I'm not sure it's the filmmaker's fault.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:10 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


it's an action movie (albeit one that was marketed as an art film.)

That's pretty much Triumph des Willens to a T.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:13 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I call foul on cultural product that won't take on the truth of the situation

What truth does it avoid? Are you saying it promotes war as a positive experience? I don't understand what you're saying here.

To me, Young's argument is ridiculous because if you analogize it to absolutely anything, every story becomes impossible: you can't tell a story about domestic abuse if that story doesn't contain a defiant woman because some victims of domestic abuse are defiant; you can't make a film about X because it doesn't contain all facets of X. It's ridiculous.

I remember when Do the Right Thing came out many critics were all up in its face because it was a film about blacks in Bed-Stuy and there was no drug use in it!!!!. Seriously, that was a repeated argument in criticisms of the movie.

To quote David Milch paraphrasing Cleanth Brooks: "the truths of reportage or history depend upon a correspondence to an externally verifiable reality and the truths of storytelling are the truths of an internal emotional coherence." Unless Young understands this, and I imagine most good writers understand it inherently, her usefulness as a critic is nil.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 10:22 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


To cry foul when a person has political objections to a movie about the most important political events of our time is arrogant. To tell the story of an occupation in a way which depicts the occupiers as victims of the occupied is blatant and vile propaganda.

I didn't even see this as the story of an occupation and I don't know how anyone could. It's simply a story of an occupation. A similar film could be made depicting German fighter pilots trying to defend Berlin from allied bombs.

If you look at any war or conflict, you're going to see compelling stories and sympathetic characters on either side. You can't fault the individual American soldiers for Iraq any more than you can fault the individual American taxpayers. (incidentally, do you pay taxes? I'm sure the consequences for tax evasion are nowhere near what a citizen of Baghdad faces)
posted by ODiV at 10:26 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seconding fairytale's comment. Completely. How this point is missed is beyond me.
posted by opsin at 10:27 PM on December 1, 2009


It's not like there isn't enough material covering the futility of war, it's not a missing trope. And you can't explore effectively the 'seduction of violence' that James is going through without getting across the character's experience... He is someone broken by war, to the point where, as you say, he can't face trying to live a day to day life anymore. A point made clearly and plainly by the film, to the point where he ends up screwing over everyone who came to put any trust in him. How it paints any of it as a positive is beyond me.
posted by opsin at 10:30 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


And to post again (sorry), I would also agree with mark242 - it isn't as good as Generation Kill. It is very good though.
posted by opsin at 10:33 PM on December 1, 2009


And/but the ending was just a reprise of Bigelow's own Point Break. Retread!
posted by dbrown at 10:35 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some honest questions:
What do (or would) you think about Das Boot?


There's no arguing with its craft. As there isn't with the likes of Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, etc. Nor for that matter, their overt positions. I doubt anybody walked out of the theater after any of these movies saying, "Hey, hot shit! Let's go enlist." But in the end, WAR is presented as a gripping experience where men test their metal, come of age, find out what they're really made of ... and so on.

But to get back to the Hedges quote, where's the "the mass of the powerless caught in its maw"? That's what war's really about as far as I'm concerned. What of their plight?

In what ways would you say The Hurt Locker differs from Battleship Potemkin as a piece of propaganda? If The Hurt Locker is propaganda, what specifically would you say its message is? To what extent would you say this propagandist quality is intentional?

Potemkin's overt Soviet propaganda, beautifully made. Hurt Locker's far less overt. It's propaganda insofar as it fixes its focus on the intense experiences of singular soldiers who, deep down inside, are damned good professionals doing their jobs damned well ("Yeah, it's a shitty job but somebody's gotta do it"). Whether or not the filmmakers believe this is propaganda is beside the point. If a young kid is inspired by it and if a recruiter can use it, it's propaganda. And I believe that both points are likely to hold true.

If you've seen The Hurt Locker, how do you square the "main character goes off on a personal mission" sequence with what the movie's propagandist message is?

I must confess to not having seen it, though I do intend to.
posted by philip-random at 10:37 PM on December 1, 2009


How it paints any of it as a positive is beyond me.

fairytale's point has been noted more than once:

Ten years ago, the film would've been marketed as a summer action movie. Bigelow has one of the most unerring instincts for action in Hollywood today.

Action is fun, isn't it? And fun is positive ...
posted by philip-random at 10:40 PM on December 1, 2009


In the rewording of my above comment I missed a couple of spots where I should have used words like "fiction" and "embellished". Obviously this isn't a true story of the occupation. It's fiction with a real, ongoing event as the backdrop.
posted by ODiV at 10:41 PM on December 1, 2009


Well put ... and yet I agree. War is where I get political. It's a fucking scar across an innocent child's face. It is the worst thing that we humans do. The only war movie I'm willing to take seriously MUST have this as its underlying theme.

Why only war? Poverty's a huge problem and, like almost everything else, it's endlessly romanticized in film.
posted by ODiV at 10:45 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hurt Locker's far less overt. It's propaganda insofar as it fixes its focus on the intense experiences of singular soldiers who, deep down inside, are damned good professionals doing their jobs damned well ("Yeah, it's a shitty job but somebody's gotta do it").

In what way is that the arc of the main character of the movie? I know you haven't actually seen the movie you're commenting on, which is why I ask. The story involves in not unsubtle ways his unnecessarily (and very, very seriously) endangering others, receiving frivolous praise for it from his superiors, receiving often-desperate scorn from his peers for it, his inability to actually save lives when it matters, and further evidence of his mental and spiritual degradation. He also has his good qualities, but these don't always line up with his qualities as a "soldier."
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:47 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


ODiV: "do you pay taxes?"

So far in my life, only the ones that I cannot keep from being taken out of paychecks, but this is an issue of poverty rather than choice - I have never made enough money to qualify for paying Federal taxes, and I would hardly call filing for a refund a political act.

As a story it may be fine - but do you not understand the implications of telling America the story of its ongoing occupation of another country in a way that ignores the civilian cost?

If you don't want to tell a story that will be criticized on fictional grounds, then tell the story of a fictional war, or one that is over already, at the very least.
posted by idiopath at 10:47 PM on December 1, 2009


* above I mean political grounds where I said fictional grounds, sorry
posted by idiopath at 10:49 PM on December 1, 2009




Why do you keep saying the story?
posted by ODiV at 10:51 PM on December 1, 2009


I know you haven't actually seen the movie you're commenting on, which is why I ask.

And thus I must remove myself from discussion having ranted enough, except for one more point:

There's a great movie called The Stunt Man that hardly anyone's seen. It stars Peter O'Toole as a slightly mad movie director who's desperate to make the ultimate anti-war film ... except he knows he's doomed to fail. At one point he relates an anecdote about a friend and fellow director who made a great anti-War film. When they showed it in the man's home town, grown men wept, people stood and applauded, and the next day recruitment went up 100%.

That's the kind of propaganda I'm trying to describe.
posted by philip-random at 10:56 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


ODiV: "Why do you keep saying the story?"

Because a movie about an ongoing war of occupation bears some responsibility for forming the way in which the audience understands that war, and by extension has some part to play in the future of the war itself. The movie, whether the director likes it or not, is influencing the story of what that ongoing war means, which is an important matter with high stakes.
posted by idiopath at 11:03 PM on December 1, 2009


Fictional propaganda?
posted by fleacircus at 11:10 PM on December 1, 2009


Because a movie about an ongoing war of occupation bears some responsibility for forming the way in which the audience understands that war, and by extension has some part to play in the future of the war itself. The movie, whether the director likes it or not, is influencing the story of what that ongoing war means, which is an important matter with high stakes.

So this film is, for a fact, prolonging and/or worsening the occupation? I'll fully admit that I don't know the full implications of the film, but I can't believe that you do either.

I saw it as a negative portrayal of what this conflict is doing to American soldiers physically and psychologically. Some people might have seen it and enlisted, sure, or become more supportive of the occupation. Unless you're going to hold films like Heat and Natural Born Killers to the same standards (or worse, since they have factually linked deaths), then I just don't see it.

At one point he relates an anecdote about a friend and fellow director who made a great anti-War film. When they showed it in the man's home town, grown men wept, people stood and applauded, and the next day recruitment went up 100%.

That's the kind of propaganda I'm trying to describe.


I don't doubt that this kind of effect is probably real, but you just related an anecdote from a work of fiction.

I'd imagine a good anti-war film might be a film that has nothing to do with war that humanizes the people with whom you are in conflict (eg: right now a film that takes place in Iraq that has nothing whatsoever to do with the war).
posted by ODiV at 11:13 PM on December 1, 2009


It's impossible to make a movie about war without glamourizing war.

Grave of the Fireflies? What constitutes a "movie about war"?
posted by dirigibleman at 11:15 PM on December 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


ODiV: "So this film is, for a fact, prolonging and/or worsening the occupation?"

I believe I have been careful with my words in this thread. Any movie about an ongoing war informs public opinion of that war. If this movie depicts the Americans as victims of the civilians that they are occupying, then, I would take ethical issue with that sort of portrayal, and I would classify it as pro Iraq war propaganda, with all that entails. If the reviewer was misreading the film and the Iraqis are just a mcguffin that exists solely to make bombs be there so our heroes can heroically deal with said bombs, then I think this is marginally better - no longer propaganda but merely amoral and irresponsible. If the Marilyn Young is totally wrong about the nature of this film and the Iraqis are depicted as real human beings with valid concerns and motivations and full fledged subjects in their own right, then none of my criticism applies whatsoever.
posted by idiopath at 11:25 PM on December 1, 2009


Also, focusing on how the occupation is harmful to Americans can probably be a constructive way to approach getting them out. Though, I don't know the intent of the filmmakers and should probably find that out.

I didn't like the US going into Iraq and I agree that this film is presenting occupying soldiers in a positive light, so we're on the same page there, idiopath. And I also agree that it may very well lead to increased enlistment. I'm just a little resistant to start criticizing films based on forcasted effects.

Sorry for going after you personally there.
posted by ODiV at 11:39 PM on December 1, 2009


It's a good piece, presenting a necessary point of view that I haven't seen in other reviews. But she misses the major problem with Hurt Locker: it's a ridiculous and shallow action movie wrapped in a "real" and "gritty" Generation Kill aesthetic. Bigelow get away with it because there's not a lot of dialog and there's plenty of tension and acres of the look of "real" war movies. But all we get underneath is a main character who is a rogue and a badass, who flouts the rules and gets away with it.

Sure, there are tender moments: he cares about a young Iraqi boy and is torn up when it seems he may be responsible for his death; and he goes home to find he can't adjust to life with his wife and child. He has feelings!

Cut to sunrise in Baghdad, he saunters down the street; none of that matters. Our man can just go back to being a fucking badass.

I'm baffled by how many people have been suckered by this film.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:41 PM on December 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


I saw the movie and thought it was great anti-war propaganda because the 'hero' in it is consumed and destroyed by the war. War is painted as an implicitely negative experience for all involved.

And maybe it's because I'm older and wiser now but I thought none of what was depicted in the movie was sexy or cool or awesome... well, that's not entirely true because Bigelow is a great director and a director great at making pretty horrific stuff appealing (I'm thinking about the fire-fight in the desert scene, which did have a removed, idealized death-from-a-distance feel to it that was pretty ten-year-olds playing war - for a while).

I'll have to watch "The Deer Hunter" again. I think Bigelow's big achievement was depicting with her characters how war can fuck you up and with her movie as it exists in today's cultural environment how we think of war. I don't think he portrayal of war was very positive or seductive. In the end you can't even take care of your own family - that's fucked up. I remember "The Deer Hunter" as having a similar message told in a different way and with a slightly different tone...
posted by From Bklyn at 12:01 AM on December 2, 2009


who flouts the rules and gets away with it.

By gets away with it I assume you mean that he isn't punished by his superior officers, right? There are worse things that can happen to someone who is confronted by danger on a daily basis, namely that they become habituated to it.

Cut to sunrise in Baghdad, he saunters down the street;

Like Young, you brought your own to it and are remembering it through a prism of your own bias. It's not sunrise at the end and he walks the only way he can in the bomb suit: stiffly and like a robot.

I'm baffled by how many people have been suckered by this film.

Yeah, you're clearly the only one smart enough to have really understood it.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 12:04 AM on December 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm baffled by how many people have been suckered by this film.

I'm baffled that you can't see what a damaged person James is. He honestly reminded me a coke addict I knew, who was sober for four years until he found a bit he'd hidden away, and went on a three day bender.

Your cynicism is not the same thing as Bigelow's intentions. The film quite consciously and continuously observes that he's an adrenaline junkie who takes stupid and unnecessary risks that sometimes result in others (for whom he is responsible) getting shot.
posted by fatbird at 12:15 AM on December 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


idiopath - The young men in this story didn't start the war. They didn't falsify intelligence. They didn't lie to the American public. Odds are that they joined the military to escape their socioeconomic background. And now as teenagers and twenty-somethings they find themselves in the middle of a war. In the case of this movie they are tasked with defusing bombs. There's a good chance that they are going to die doing their job. They aren't victims in the same sense that the citizens of Iraq are victims but they still find themselves in a situation largely out of their control.

Is it not acceptable to tell their story and their story alone?
posted by Sandor Clegane at 12:50 AM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's impossible to make a movie about war without glamourizing war.

Kind of true. More truthfully, it's impossible to make a movie that depicts war honestly and engagingly without, to at least some degree, glamorizing war. McKee does a bit about this in Story, saying that Anti-War films tend to ignore the fact that people, for whatever reason, love war. He then points out Kubrick's Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket to show how an Anti-War movie may be done right, taking the love of war as a given and then using that to show the horrors of it. Of course, Kubrick naturally had a very detached view of humanity, which probably helped in this regard. The film version of Catch-22, while bizarre and very hard to follow unless you know the book, also did a good job of making war seem awful, petty, tedious, evil, and something which simply brings out the worst in people.

There have been a ton of movies questioning why we're at war with Iraq, which is good, but they generally (Redacted, Stop-Loss) go unseen and largely un-noted-upon. I have not seen The Hurt Locker yet, but by now I really, really want to. It sounds as if she takes her main character through much of the same progressions as Walken's character in The Deerhunter, which certainly portrayed the Viet Cong in a hideous light, but no one would consider it a pro-war movie. It seems as though The Hurt Locker uses action-movie trappings and a character-study story to satirize the action mobie ideals that make people love war in the first place, showing a very flawed soldier as it's protagonist who gets continual praise for his daring antics no matter how foolish or unnecessary or endangering they are to others, because they are "brave."

It sounds like it's about how war changes a person for the worse. And it sounds like, maybe, stretching for the political messages Young wants might have weakened the message Bigalow was trying to convey.

I know the war is unjust and evil. I know that we are occupying people who don't want us there, and should'nt have to deal with us being there. I would bring that context into the theatre with me. I can't speak to how someone already in favor of the war would view the film, but I'm not sure it's Bigalow's job to predict that either, especially considering that the reasons and politics are pointedly besides-the-point of the story she's telling.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:30 AM on December 2, 2009


Lots of false dichotomies here - a text about war can only glamorise, or castigate. A film about soldiers can only be postive (wtf?!). Philip-random, I really recommend you withhold your judgement until you've actually seen the film in question.

How anybody can view this as glamorising James is beyond me, maybe as an Australian I don't see how completely effed up the US is about war, but seriously, the man's a fucking wreck. His life is a mess, he kills his co-workers, he breaks most of the army rules, he can't stand his life with his family because it's too staid and normal. He's regarded as a lunatic by everyone that works with him, and he doesn't even have the comfort of demonising the enemy, on the contrary he empathises with them and so has to stop thinking about that too.

I felt that the film's thesis was a quintessentially modern one: In world perceived as insane, a sane reaction is also crazy. It's not a film about everything, in fact, contra Young, I would argue it's not a film about Iraq at all. It's a film about *a* soldier, and about *a* war. Soldiers have stories, too. The idea they aren't victims as well (not trivialising civilian victims) is bizarre. I found it funny someone mentioned Rambo as military fantasy. Hurt Locker actually has a lot in common with First Blood (esp the novel); which is not a fantasy at all, but a horrible treastise on the effect of war, even on the 'victor'.
posted by smoke at 1:58 AM on December 2, 2009


I for one enjoyed the movie. I find the focus on the individual characters refreshing, and particularly so for the type of unit depicted. Generation Kill was fantastic, but was about the actual invaders, in the first days of the war, so cutting out qualms about the invasion would have cut out almost all of the meaning. The ED squad in Hurt Locker weren't invaders, but simply coping with the mess of unintended consequences that came out of that invasion. The interesting part of the movie for me was the day-to-day feel of it. I served in New Orleans for the first 18 months of Katrina, and while obviously not as intense as a war, I saw plenty of people get hooked on adrenaline, and watched it impact them as professionals and as humans. Later, while I was going through my own versions of the grocery store scene, nothing was more annoying than people trying to put my experiences in the context of the government's response to Katrina, etc. What was important to me was that I had walked away with psychological baggage that I was trying to cope with, not that other agencies in town had racist responses to the storm. I think that if I was a veteran, I'd enjoy seeing one movie that conveys the damage of war without becoming a political screed.
posted by gam zeh yaavor at 2:26 AM on December 2, 2009


Reading all of this reminded me of an NPR report that upset me a few days ago, Marines Reflect On Duty, Death In Afghanistan. Two quotes in the story show a disconnect between expectations and reality on the part of our soldiers: (1) "Once that went off, we were like, yup, this is not going to be all fun and games, how we thought it was going to be at Leatherneck. This is real. People's lives are on the line," and (2) "There's no cool music playing." (The second quote is only in the audio of the story at the 05:30 mark.)
posted by loosemouth at 3:11 AM on December 2, 2009


Bigelow is a technically proficient action movie director who loves to blow shit up; she is no political mind, she is not interested in human behavior beyond very superficial macho stuff (or, like Blue Steel, in really tough women who behave like guys) -- she made The Hurt Locker as the story of an adrenaline junkie, and it works as such. It's not a war movie, it's not a movie about Iraq, it's not a movie about many things. Within its limited scope, it works. The subplot about the kid -- and the guy's wild run in the Baghdad night -- are just filler.

Grand Illusion -- war movie.
The Big Red One -- war movie.
Apocalypse Now -- war movie.
Platoon -- war movie.
Full Metal Jacket -- war movie.
The Hurt Locker -- movie about shit being blown up in the Middle East.

SPOILER

I also like how she killed off the only two big stars she had in a few minutes worth of screen time -- due to budget restrictions, I suppose -- their time must have cost her too much money already, better have them appear in cameos, kill them, and move on. I like Bigelow but the praise for this well-made little action movie about explosives is just wildly inflated.
posted by matteo at 4:15 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Full Metal Jacket wasn't an anti-war movie, except perhaps in intent. It sure as hell didn't pull it off. Whatever anti-war message was put across in the first half, and the grisly deaths scattered throughout (so what, all war movies have them) was completely negated by the Ride of the Valkryies scene, which has to be just about the #1 piece of war porn of all time. There was a bit in Jarhead (can't remember if it was the book or the movie or both) that mentioned that scene specifically to illustrate the point that anti-war war movie messages go over the heads (or are ignored by) a large portion of viewers. On top of that Kubrick couldn't help turning it into a dark comedy, with "sucky sucky love you long time 5 dolla", "fucking hardcore man!", "big shit sandwich and we're all going to have to take a bite" and "inside every gook is an American trying to get out". Amongst others. "They think it's just a big JOKE!" Even in the first half I have to admit I was laughing at Private Pyle as much as I was sympathizing with him. Haven't seen Hurt Locker yet, but I will.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 4:32 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


... but the praise for this well-made little action movie about explosives is just wildly inflated.

Not wildly inflated at all. At what it is, it is brilliant, beautifully paced beautifully executed and not trying to be anything more than what it is: a movie about shit that could at any second blow up.

I think I most admired the movie when he walks through the aisle of the grocery store. That was an exceptionally effective and affecting scene. This was the kind of movie that will come to define America's own understanding of this 'conflict.' Told through this one particular story.

And don't forget her first movie - "Near Dark" which was a preposterously nuanced ass-kicking vampire movie... she's more than just a 'technically proficient action movie director', she makes some movies that twist their genres in really interesting ways.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:38 AM on December 2, 2009


was completely negated by the Ride of the Valkryies scene, which has to be just about the #1 piece of war porn of all time

IIRC that's in Apocalypse Now, not Full Metal Jacket.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:23 AM on December 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Ride of the Valkyries is most definitely an Apocalypse Now scene. Other than the background of Vietnam, I'm not really sure how you can confuse those two vastly different movies.
posted by kmz at 6:29 AM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's impossible to make a movie about war without glamourizing war.

I don't think this is right. It's too glib of a statement, and presumes that the audience is stupid and superficial. Is it possible to make a movie about crime without glamourizing crime? Or a movie about infidelity without glamourizing infidelity?

If the suggestion is that the depictions of heroic actions and soldiers behaving honorably under extreme adversity are glamourzing, then under that definition, war is glamourous. There are US soldiers in combat - right this moment - behaving heroically and honorably. That is the truth. That you don't agree with them being where they are and fighting where they are does not in the least alter the fact that they are there not of their own choosing but nonetheless choose to behave in most cases with a honor and dignity.

The reality is that this comment ("It's impossible to make a movie about war without glamourizing war") is made by people who by virtue of their own warped framework can't see the real damage that war causes. "The ultimate badass"? What is a badass? A badass is a sociopath. A heartless emotionless machine, dysfunctional within the confines of civilization but superhuman in chaos. In fact, the badass is an agent of chaos.

That you choose to see the "badass" as something good reflects on you as much as on the filmmaker. It's absolutely true that a lot of film portray the hero as a badass, but this formula works only because much of the audience is psychologically broken in exactly the same way - hypermachismo covering up a totally decimated self-esteem.

The film depicts him as broken, but you only get this message, or appreciate it's importance if you place the man's heroic actions as a soldier on the same level as his behavior in a more tranquil pedestrian circumstances. But if you are viewing the film from the macho action hero framework, those "domestic" moments do not matter and you ascribe to them no importance because years of B-grade shlock has convinced you to forgive the hero his shitty psychotic behavior as long as he blows up the bad guy.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:34 AM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anthony Swofford on war movies in Jarhead (p. 8):
There is talk that many Vietnam films are antiwar, that the message is war is inhumane and look what happens when you train young American men to fight and kill, they turn their fighting and killing everywhere, they ignore their targets and desecrate the entire country, shooting fully automatic, forgetting they were trained to aim. But actually, Vietnam movies are all pro-war, no matter what the supposed message, what Kubrick or Coppola or Stone intended. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson in Omaha or San Francisco or Manhattan will watch the films and weep and decide once and for all that war is inhumane and terrible, and they will tell their friends at church and their family this, but Corporal Johnson at Camp Pendleton and Sergeant Johnson at Travis Air Force Base and Seaman Johnson at Coronado Naval Station and Spec 4 Johnson at Fort Bragg and Lance Corporal Swofford at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base watch the same films and are excited by them, because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills. Fight, rape, war, pillage, burn. Filmic images of death and carnage are pornography for the military man; with film you are stroking his cock, tickling his balls with the pink feather of history, getting him ready for his real First Fuck. It doesn't matter how many Mr. and Mrs. Johnsons are antiwar--the actual killers who know how to use the weapons are not.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:34 AM on December 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


When I saw the comparison to Triumph of the Will in the first sentence, I almost stopped reading. To compare an independent film about the Iraq war to a piece of Nazi propaganda isn't just hyperbolic, its sophomoric, as if she knew that her argument wouldn't hold weight and needed to provide a little bit of shock value to kick things off.

Well, if the comparison is going to be made, we might as well refresh our memories.

Triumph des Willens (Full movie - English subbed)
posted by hippybear at 6:46 AM on December 2, 2009


IIRC that's in Apocalypse Now, not Full Metal Jacket.

Ah yeah, my mistake. You're totally right. The other criticisms of Full Metal Jacket still stand IMHO. It trivializes war rather than being anti-war.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:50 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


In some ways The Hurt Locker is a 21st-century Triumph of the Will.

As a movie reviewer, she's a crap historian.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:01 AM on December 2, 2009


I wondered who that "KBigelowXXX" on Xbox Live was.
posted by mattholomew at 7:16 AM on December 2, 2009


@L.P. Hatecraft

I don't know the story about what Kubrick was trying to do with Full Metal Jacket. To me, it doesn't even look like he's trying to make an anti-war movie. After a recent viewing, I would say that it had a lot in common with The Hurt Locker; it is already presumed that the soldiers are going to be in war and combat, often for reasons outside their control, and we're looking at how they cope with it. In fact, you could say that they deal with it a lot better in FMJ. By the end of the movie, Joker has actually reached an accommodation with war by learning how to live in the moment and learning to make the best out of what he is dealt.
posted by Edgewise at 7:32 AM on December 2, 2009


I do not believe a person can understand Full Metal Jacket without having first seen Paths of Glory, preferably on the same day.

I'm completely serious.
posted by aramaic at 7:42 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


/Start Rant/ So tired of you folks who continually want to turn ENTERTAINMENT into propaganda. This is a movie folks and nothing more. If you're so concerned about the American occupation then why aren't you out organizing or protesting or volunteering with the groups that are actually doing something to assist the civilians impacted by our military's actions? What? Because that might actually take some effort? No, you just pay your $5 and come here to rant about how evil this activity is in your morally superior tone. Lack of alternate action is just as bad as participation. /End Rant/ This is a good movie and nothing more. There's not a hidden meaning or agenda to everything.
posted by white_devil at 7:53 AM on December 2, 2009


Edgewise: To me, it doesn't even look like he's trying to make an anti-war movie.

Maybe not anti-war, and maybe not even anti-military, but it's certainly about the systematic dehumanization of humans, of which the military apparatus plays a huge part in the film. Witness also the 'M-I-C-K-E-Y' cadence at the end.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:57 AM on December 2, 2009


Actually, white_devil, examining the claims that this film is propaganda in a reasoned manner, and teasing out threads of truth about how even non-propaganda pieces can color the public perception of war, and doing it on an internationally read forum such as MetaFilter... actually IS doing something constructive. Perhaps not the actions you would like taken, but action nonetheless.

And to assume that everyone here on the Blue, nay, even everyone here in this thread is ONLY commenting about this film as the sole effort they are making against the war is unfair and unfounded.
posted by hippybear at 8:18 AM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Unfair...maybe. Unfounded , not so much. There is a very vocal minority in this thread who take every opportunity to expound on their distaste for American imperialism and the occupation in Iraq. I've been hearing their same shtick for a while now. I agree that looking at the subtext of the film is great. But trying to paint it and every war film as propaganda is disingenuous at best.
posted by white_devil at 8:29 AM on December 2, 2009


If you're so concerned about the American occupation then why aren't you out organizing or protesting or volunteering with the groups that are actually doing something to assist the civilians impacted by our military's actions? What? Because that might actually take some effort? No, you just pay your $5 and come here to rant about how evil this activity is in your morally superior tone.

This is a good discussion and nothing more. There's not a hidden meaning or agenda to everything.
posted by kathrineg at 8:31 AM on December 2, 2009


I'm in the Army, and have a couple close friends who are EOD.

They can not _STAND_ this movie. The portrayal of EOD technicians in this movie is factually inaccurate, and nothing remotely close to what happened in this movie would happen in the 'real' EOD world.

They had a special showing of the movie for these guys before it hit release, and I did not talk to one of them who liked the movie. YMMV.
posted by SeanMac at 8:57 AM on December 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


There is a very vocal minority in this thread who take every opportunity to expound on their distaste for American imperialism and the occupation in Iraq.

Miserable bastards, derailing the discussion like that.... oh, wait?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:03 AM on December 2, 2009


We will keep telling stories of war long after we stop having wars.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:12 AM on December 2, 2009


What slimepuppy said. The Illiad is a tragedy of failing leadership, personal vendetta, meaningless conflict of man and god, and brutal violence. It is also the model that most European and European descended cultures have taken for their concepts of heroism, nobility and valor.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:49 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's impossible to make a movie about war without glamourizing war.

Some would disagree. As for Stans intent with FMJ, take a look here.
posted by Mintyblonde at 9:53 AM on December 2, 2009


If you're so concerned about the American occupation then why aren't you out organizing or protesting or volunteering with the groups that are actually doing something to assist the civilians impacted by our military's actions? What? Because that might actually take some effort? No, you just pay your $5 and come here to rant about how evil this activity is in your morally superior tone.

This reminds me a lot of the sneers directed towards the pro-Bush so-called "fighting keyboarders" during the run-up to the Iraq war. It wasn't a very convincing argument then, and it isn't now. People talk about the things that they see as important, online and offline, and the fact that all they do is talk doesn't mean that the factual content of their ideas is automatically less.

As for this film specifically - seems to me it's explicitly making a statement about war, and indeed making an anti-war statement, albeit in ways that many anti-war people in this thread view as ineffective or downright counterproductive. So talking about it in the context of the war isn't a bad thing, to my mind. And when people talk about the war, they're generally talking about the ethics of it.

So tired of you folks who continually want to turn ENTERTAINMENT into propaganda.

As far as I can tell, the general feel around Metafilter (and a lot of the political Left, really - hell, you see a rather warped mirror image of it on the Right as well) is that all art is propaganda, and that acceptable art is art which is propaganda in the service of the correct cause. Check out any of the threads that relate to the question of gender in film, for example - doesn't matter what the film is about (war film, chick flick, comedy, horror) the way women are portrayed are seen as either subverting or reinforcing certain gender roles and stereotypes (and the ways they subvert them are endlessly critiqued in the same way the tactices of Bigelow's anti-war message are being critiqued here). That's just the most obvious example, you'll see something similar arrive in virtually any discussion of, well, any media, no matter how much it might seem to be innoculous "entertainment" to you. I sort of go back and forth between seeing this as valuable social criticism and rigid ideological Puritanism, but it's more or less ubiquitous.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:54 AM on December 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


What I was trying to say upthread is that if you can't take a war movie seriously because it doesn't put forward what you want it to, I have trouble seeing what makes war so special. The Sopranos and Scarface certainly didn't go too far into the consequences of mob activities on the victims. You can criticize them for glamorizing violence, sure, but you can't just dismiss these works out of hand which is what I saw in the comments on The Hurt Locker.

The portrayal of EOD technicians in this movie is factually inaccurate, and nothing remotely close to what happened in this movie would happen in the 'real' EOD world.

They had a special showing of the movie for these guys before it hit release, and I did not talk to one of them who liked the movie. YMMV.


Seriously? I guess it's good for them to finally learn this lesson about the entertainment industry in general and Hollywood specifically, but it's a decade or two late if you ask me. Even works that are about real people manage to veer wildly away from the truth. Hell, even documentaries assembled from footage of actual people in actual situations can be incredibly misleading.
posted by ODiV at 10:15 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree with you AdamCSnider that you do see much of the "everything is propaganda" on both MeFi and on right wing sites. I think this a terrible attempt to extend what the meaning of propaganda is and lessens the value of the word when used in this context. I've found myself doing the same in the past and have taken a step back and tried to look at art for story/feeling/meaning it's trying to convey and if it's enjoyable. In the past I've been quick to judge art I don't agree with as propaganda (especially what I consider right leaning or non progressive) without looking at the entertainment value of the product itself. I see plenty of complaining when conservatives try to turn their personal dislikes on art with a liberal tint as being more of the liberal conspiracy or liberal propaganda to lead the American public down the path of evil. I'd hoped that liberals (at least fellow mefites) were above the same rhetoric. Lately I'm seeing more and more this is not the case.
posted by white_devil at 10:53 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, that is a well-reasoned and interesting point.

I really didn't get from your first comment in this thread, so thanks for clarifying and I'm sorry if I lobbed a snark-bomb-pile-on at you earlier.
posted by kathrineg at 11:02 AM on December 2, 2009


kathrineg - No worries. I was not very tactful in my initial comment. Lack of coffee and tired from sleeping on the day bed while visiting my folks. Your snark bomb helped get my mind working, almost better than coffee!
posted by white_devil at 11:44 AM on December 2, 2009


Star Wars sucked because showing Vader as a guy with cool powers negates the horrors of life in a military dictatorship. Propaganda, I say.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:31 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, the general feel around Metafilter (and a lot of the political Left, really - hell, you see a rather warped mirror image of it on the Right as well) is that all art is propaganda, and that acceptable art is art which is propaganda in the service of the correct cause.

I think it's more complicated than that. I don't believe that all art is propaganda. I do, however, believe that virtually all art is shaped in key ways by the sociopolitical context in which it is produced: that those circumstances played a particular role in allowing the work to be imagined or funded or made, and that those circumstances are visible in the finished product in one way or another. I believe that most of the time, most art does, in fact, tell us something about the social moment it emerges from and is often scripted to support a particular line of thought or belief. That doesn't mean it's explicit or intentional, but I do think it's there. Virtually all the time. (Not always, I'm sure there are exceptions, can't think of any, but let's bracket it anyway.) It doesn't automatically follow that if whatever that message or social connection is, is disagreeable to me and whatever my ideological stance is, that I won't like it.

So no, I don't think this idea of "just entertainment" is particularly true or even possible.

In the case of Hurt Locker, the questions I'd offer are these: what political or social ideologies--what sort of cultural zeitgeist--was required that allowed this movie, with this message, whatever you think it is, to be produced? What kinds of depictions of war/Iraq aren't we seeing? To what degree is that the case because of cultural attitudes about the war either limit artistic development in that direction or limit funding? (Leaving aside the issue of bad film on an aesthetic or narrative level.) What does the response of most reviewers--which is what I think Young took exception to--tell us about cultural attitudes about the Iraq war?

Those lines of question don't, I think, necessarily insist on an agreeable outcome.
posted by liketitanic at 1:46 PM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't believe that all art is propaganda. I do, however, believe that virtually all art is shaped in key ways by the sociopolitical context in which it is produced: that those circumstances played a particular role in allowing the work to be imagined or funded or made, and that those circumstances are visible in the finished product in one way or another.

This is a distinction I think many people have lost sight of (the one you are drawing between propaganda and this other, "shaped" message). And I think that for activists of various sorts in particular, it is a distinction without a difference in terms of how the art interacts with society: both shaped art and propaganda are seen to act to reinforce and reproduce the dominant way of thinking about, well, war in this case - indeed, the former often seems to be viewed as more insidious than the latter, simply because it is less overtly visible.
This isn't to say that there isn't a distinction, or that it shouldn't be recognized. Only that I think it is widely overlooked and often explicitly rejected as a sham in todays rather charged atmosphere.
Or perhaps I'm overthinking this. I've been reading a lot of Orwell lately.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:07 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


people look (often, way too hard) for meaning in everything in the world.

im sorry to burst your bubble, but not everything that has ever been created was created with a lot of meaning in it. or with the meaning that one thinks is in it.

this was a movie that was created to *make money* like almost all business ventures

that said, i agree with some things said in this thread (generation kill > hurt locker & that it is a movie about a person, who happens to be in a war, which happens to be in the middle east)
posted by knockoutking at 4:35 PM on December 2, 2009


im sorry to burst your bubble, but not everything that has ever been created was created with a lot of meaning in it. or with the meaning that one thinks is in it.

You . . . didn't burst my bubble. Sorry. I disagree, for the reasons I already described. In fact, thinking "way too hard" about "meaning in everything in the world" is kind of what I, as an academic, get paid to do. That you disagree doesn't make it wrong or useless.
posted by liketitanic at 5:41 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


this was a movie that was created to *make money* like almost all business ventures

How is this not political?

Reminds of something Joe Strummer said back in the 80s. He was sick and tired of being labeled a "political" artist while the likes of Duran Duran snorted cocaine, hung out with models and got away unbothered. "They're as political as I am. They're just on the other side." (or words to that effect)
posted by philip-random at 6:06 PM on December 2, 2009


The film is talking about grunts on the ground, who go out daily and risk their lives--they are doing their jobs, not supporting a cause, in the long run. This was Bigelow's point. Kudos to Bigelow for keeping politics out of it. For Young to call it a "video game" film is a disgrace. "Hurt Locker" is the best film I've seen this year.
posted by Berry at 6:19 PM on December 2, 2009


Reminds of something Joe Strummer said back in the 80s.

Oops! That's a comment I made a long time ago in a different context. I meant to note it as such ... but didn't.
posted by philip-random at 6:26 PM on December 2, 2009


The film is talking about grunts on the ground, who go out daily and risk their lives--they are doing their jobs, not supporting a cause, in the long run.

Whoa. If you're a soldier in a war doing your job is supporting a cause.
posted by Justinian at 7:20 PM on December 2, 2009


Looks like this got picked up elsewhere--probably from someone who reads MeFi?
posted by liketitanic at 8:01 PM on December 2, 2009


I do have to say that not all action filmmaking is for fun, and the best example I have is Bigelow's K-19: The Widowmaker. That was by far the least fun I've ever had watching a submarine movie. You can have a killer action instinct and use it to seriously unnerve people instead of entertaining them.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:13 PM on December 2, 2009


I can't understand how this film has got so much praise as to me it just seemed a bog-standard below-par action movie.

Two things that really annoyed me...

A group of British special forces (or possibly mercenaries) are portrayed as bunch of complete bilthering idiots in order to make the heroes look good.

As soon as one character was set up as obviously doomed by war-movie cliche I was interested to see how they would twist that... but they didn't and he had the cliched end I expected.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:57 AM on December 3, 2009


Whoa. If you're a soldier in a war doing your job is supporting a cause.

Probably. But the alternatives are not to join at all, desert, or go to the stockade.

My old man was one of the original Special Forces advisers in Vietnam in the early 1960's. His advice? Don't have a war here. They didn't listen.

He was steadfastly against nearly every policy that was implemented in that war. But by the same token he was responsible for people lives. His friends and comrades were there. The Vietnamese he so cared about where trapped in the insanity. What was he to do? Refuse to report for duty?

The Army sent him back three times. He went three times. His entire personal mission was to make sure that he could in some small way tame the insanity and make a difference.

It's easy to sit there in your big comfy chair at home and think you know what the fuck a soldier goes through. But frankly you don't know shit.
posted by tkchrist at 2:03 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


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