“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.”

–Albert Einstein

Even though Albert Einstein was alive during the days of a different war, his insight is still proved relevant today.  The movie The Hurt Locker could easily be mistaken for news coverage or even a promotional campaign from the army.  It is this realistic, tangible perspective that pulls the audience in as they choke on the breath of fresh air that is– The Hurt LockerThis portrayal of the war in Iraq shows the film’s framing of the soldiers as its main focus and weaves its underlying message of exposing terrorism without ever having to say the word.  This combination leaves viewers in shock and awe as the closing credits come into focus and burns the fact that, even though the movie is over, the war is not even close, into the audiences’ mind.

Not only does director Kathryn Bigelow use framing to make the viewer feel like they are in the action but her spin on the mockumentary genre creates a feel that erases the line between extravagant Hollywood and reality.  It brings the film to life in a way that makes the fact that these are actors and sets almost forgettable.  In the book Terrorism and the Press an Uneasy Relationship, Robert Entman says, “ to frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem, definition, casual interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described” (pg. 46).  Bigelow creates a real adaptation that has so far been unseen in either war drama or politically charged expository pieces because she leaves out the media response and press.  She takes that biased stigma out before her viewers can get the chance to make assumptions based off of political affiliation.  Oddly enough, she also fails to follow one of journalism’s cardinal rules: portray and give equal opportunity to both sides.  This movie neither shows nor gives the other side, the insurgents, an opportunity to defend their actions or express their contempt.  Even though the focus is on the plight of the American soldier, not seeing a more human side of the Iraqis detracts from the message of the film.  According  to the New York Times, “Ms. Bigelow, practicing a kind of hyperbolic realism, distills the psychological essence and moral complications of modern warfare into a series of brilliant, agonizing set pieces.”  However, Iraqis and insurgents are treated as a backdrop and have no significance other than playing the antagonist to the soldiers. The civilian population is given no dimensions at all as portrayed in the film. They scarcely have any human characteristics.  It is this argument that gives fuel to the flock of critics berating this film.  However, to understand the purpose behind the Iraqi’s struggle Bigelow presents the struggle of the soldiers, which is often overlooked.  An article in the Rapid City Journal said, “Veterans of the Iraq war have said the movie is not entirely accurate but that it is the best movie about the Iraq war.”  The film focuses on showing the truth about the heroics of the actions of the soldiers, not necessarily focusing on the soldiers as heroes themselves.  Even though the film has an anti-war undertone, the message is not blatantly displayed and this once again allows viewers to dispend their disbelief and be transported into a world built only on the will to survive.

This film throws the reader into the daily lives of soldiers, but not soldiers fighting an invisible force that is terrorism but soldiers fighting for their survival.  Bigelow never offers a definition of terrorism but she outlines and emphasizes that fear is the sole motivation behind every action—in essence, kill or be killed.  Terrorism is fear and it is omnipresent, as long as fear exists then terrorism will as well.  This fear affects everyone; no one is spared from the effects and this is the angle that Bigelow focuses on.  She doesn’t favor the American soldier’s perspective but she offers a unique view and sheds a realistic view on the decisions that soldiers are constantly confronted with.  Big Hollywood’s editor-in-chief and industry watchdog John Nolte said, “[This movie shows] that there are no heroes, no good men in the Military—only PTSD cases, lunatic Colonels, and those poor saps dragged along for the ride. A terrible depiction of who these men are.”    However, this is not the case.  She doesn’t make these men out to be pigs; she shows them as part of a bigger picture and turns the attention to the psychological aspect of the war. The fact that she doesn’t address terrorism nor define it just mirrors the fact that the soldiers don’t think about it either.  Their priority is survival and accomplishing their delegated tasks. Bigelow makes the soldiers real by plugging familiar American products.  For example in one of the most powerful scenes where the bounty hunters are killed by insurgent sniper fire, Bigelow shows tough guy Sergeant Will James drinking a Capri sun while scoping out potential threats.  Even though this product plug seemed out of place, it also gave a sense to the viewer that soldiers enjoy the same frivolous items that Americans do back home.  This goes for the DVDs that the soldiers buy and even the music they listen too.  All these things are very familiar and create a sense of home even though they are a world away and therefore suggests how close to home terrorism really is—if it affects one American then in essence it affects us all.

The Hurt Locker keeps viewers on the edge of their seat because they are aware of the circumstances the soldiers face.  Everyone knows what happens when bombs go off and gunshots are heard and how prevalent suicide bombers are.  The suspense is almost like a horror film, half the time the audience is preparing themselves to be surprised and horrified.  This is also how Bigelow shows terrorism.  She highlights the stark reality of how vivid the everyday fear of death is and doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details or images.  One of the most gripping scenes was when the sniper fire started and Sergeant James and Sergeant Sanborn were scoping out the area and it was so desolate and quiet that you could see and hear the flies landing on Sergeant James’ face.  The effect of this seemingly peaceful shot was unnerving because in reality it was anything but.  Unfortunately, unlike Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea, an obvious peaceful result is not being portrayed in this movie.  When Mortenson says in his book, “If we try to resolve terrorism with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before 9/11. If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs,” he talks about rural areas with a small ignorant populace.  Achieving this in an urban environment with suicide bombers everywhere is next to impossible so sadly, there is not much hope in the near future.  Not until the understanding Einstein spoke of is achieved.  It is this cultural gap that creates the unsolved disconnect between the two cultures that dates back to the Cold War and sweetheart oil deals and especially Desert Storm.  If the history of the relationship between the U.S. and the Middle East is not understood then it shouldn’t be a surprise that there is such a deep-rooted hatred that dates back not just decades vut centuries.

I was shocked and in awe after finishing The Hurt Locker.  I found that my eyes were moist and I was overcome with sadness because I saw in this movie that the end is not in sight.  Even though it was a screenplay and not a true story, these circumstances still appear everyday and all I could think about was how many men and women died overseas in the two hours that I had spent watching this movie.  It broke my heart thinking of what an injustice has been committed against our armed forces because people have stopped caring about the war but that does not mean soldiers have stopped caring about their jobs or country.  I thought it was interesting that the movie lacked a media spin or press of any kind but then I realized that Bigelow already was faced with adversity in making this movie so if she put in the media then it would naturally fall into a slanted category.  In keeping out the news, she kept out the bias.  She forced you to suspend your disbelief and that therefore gave her the power to open your eyes to a world beyond your imagination—a world of war.

Works cited

Barnett, B. & Reynolds, A. (2009). Terrorism and the Press an Uneasy Relationship.

New York, NY: Peter Land Publishing Inc.

Mortenson, Greg. Three Cups of Tea. Penguin, 2006.

Nolte, John . Big Hollywood. Mar. 2010. 20 Apr. 2010.


Rasmussen, R. (2010, Mar 15 ). ‘Hurt Locker’ a win for U.S. military. Rapid City


Scott, A. O. (2009, Jun 26). Soldiers on a Live Wire Between Peril and Protocol. New

York Times