Fair. Balanced. American.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Brian Turner

An Iraq veteran's reflection on The Hurt Locker.
There was something in the soundtrack of “The Hurt Locker,” near the very end of the film, that evoked the Western. And when our main character (Staff Sgt. William James, played by Jeremy Renner) walks back into Iraq, back into the hurt locker of the war, away from the camera and toward the vanishing point on the horizon, I perceived echoes of Shane, the gunslinger hero who rides into the sunset, solo, wounded, into a place beyond the audience, beyond comprehension.

The gunslinger and the horizon. Part of me thinks it reinforces the romantic ideal of the hero that’s been handed down to us in the storytelling vein for centuries now. It’s connected to the idea that there is glory in war, which I find more than troubling. On the other hand, if we see in that final scene a soldier walking back toward the bomb, to confront the addiction to adrenaline, or the fear, or the confusing and charged emotions that overtake humans in war — well, that’s intriguing.

The last image of “The Hurt Locker” expresses a theme I’ve often tried to articulate. In the film, the main character cannot completely return to America, to the norm of a life back home. In a sense, he’s in Iraq whether he’s physically in a supermarket in the States, or in a bomb suit walking into the hurt locker.

That image rings true to me, but I’d take it a step further: I’d say that we, as a nation, now contain this explosive ordnance within us. Within our national psyche. We have generations of combat veterans and military family members woven throughout the fabric of our entire culture. Some of us have to walk down those dusty streets. We have to approach that which might tear us apart. We have to try to defuse what is explosive within.

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