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War Is Swell: Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”

War Is Swell: Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker"

The opening of The Hurt Locker is a textbook example of how to use images not only to impart information but to brand it on the brain. The scene has words, too—quite a lot of them—but none as clarifying as the sight of an Army bomb disposal expert (Guy Pearce), encased in a bulky protective suit, crouching before an active incendiary device on a sweltering Baghdad street. What happens next should be seen, not divulged; but from those first, horrifying minutes of expertly choreographed visual provocation we learn at least two things. First, that in the world of director Kathryn Bigelow, being a recognizable celebrity is no guarantee of longevity. Second, that hi-tech clothing can protect your flesh but war kills most efficiently from the inside.

At no other point in the movie is this overarching theme as powerfully, or as succinctly, expressed. It’s hardly a new notion, but Bigelow comes at it with an improbably fresh eye: “subtle” may seem an odd compliment to pay a movie so immersed in violence, but the director’s methods—so vested in the visual—have no patience for preachy speeches or angst-filled monologues. Not for her the soul-searching conversation or guilty confession, the redemptive climax or message-laden bombast so common to war movies. Indeed, for anyone weary of the Iraq War drama (or documentary, or HBO miniseries, or Lifetime soap opera), The Hurt Locker feels both novel and emotionally honest in a way that has nothing to do with war and everything to do with human adaptability.

Click here to read the rest of Jeannette Catsoulis’s review of The Hurt Locker.

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