On the Denied Politics of THE HURT LOCKER

I’m really tired of hearing from American reviewers that Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker “isn’t political”. This specious and even insulting claim is clearly part of their effort to convince people to see the movie, and I’m at least sympathetic to that part, since the film is far and away the best new American commercial feature I’ve seen in months — the best constructed and the most thoughtful and entertaining. It’s also the best commercial American film about the so-called “war in” (I prefer “occupation of”) Iraq, at least since In the Valley of Elah, on which writer Mark Boal also furnished much of the material.

First of all, the notion that any American film made today with an Iraqi setting could possibly be apolitical in any shape or form strikes me as being extremely naïve and myopic. Secondly, I can’t imagine what could make the notion of an apolitical film on this subject sound even remotely attractive. Are we really that helpless and hopeless?  And are we so blinkered in our perceptions of what politics consists of that we think it’s limited to how we vote in elections? (Spoiler ahead, so if you haven’t yet seen the film, you might want to stop reading here.)

This is a film whose most courageous character is shown to be myopic to the point of insanity when it comes to perceiving Iraqi people in his midst — or at least one Iraqi kid in particular whom he supposedly knows and has some fondness for. He’s so convinced that this kid has been killed by a terrorist that he can’t even see the kid greeting him. This kind of blindness surely implies something about American perceptions of the Iraqi people, the ones whom American soldiers have allegedly been fighting for. It even, I would argue, implies something political. But it would appear that any red-blooded American who thinks The Hurt Locker has anything political to say on the subject will want to skip this movie and watch more Michael Jackson TV specials instead. [7/14/09]

Postscript: Kent Jones has pointed out to me that Bigelow herself can partially be credited with encouraging this denial in one of her recent interviews:

Did you want to make sure that the film didn’t divulge into choosing a political stance?

Kathryn Bigelow: I think that was important. There is that saying, “There is no politics in the trenches,” and I think it was important to look at the heroism of these men.

I don’t think this invalidates my point at all, but it does help to show some of the industry thinking at its roots. [7/15/09]

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