The Hurt Locker is not in any sense a classic version of war movies: love story, famous characters, troop combat on a large scale, etc. It does not focus on the political or historical context. Rather, it is a portrayal of soldiers who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world: disarming bombs in the heat of war against terrorism. The film was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, screen written by Mark Boal. The Hurt Locker is unusual in many ways, including that: America and terrorist are framed from multidimensional perspectives, which, in turn, provide the audiences a more unique aspect of the definition of terrorism; and the movie offers some hope for a “third cup of tea.”

The Hurt Locker opens with a quotation from War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a book written by Chris Hedges: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” The movie was shot in Jordan, just miles from Iraq border to depict the reality of American military on the war against terrorism in 2004. The focus of the movie is on a group of soldiers, who are part of the United States Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) in Iraq. The original group of characters is composed of Sergeant Thompson, Sergeant Sanborn, and specialist Eldridge. Sergeant Thompson serves as the leader, while the other two are communicators with Sergeant Thompson via the ratio inside the bomb suit. During a mission, Sergeant Thompson is killed by a radio-controlled 155 mm improvised explosive device in Baghdad.  A new Sergeant, James, takes over and the three of them survive a few different missions. The last assignment of the team is to remove and disarm a time bomb strapped to an Iraqi civilian’s body. After failing the mission, Sergeant Sanborn becomes emotional and tells James that he can no longer cope with the pressure of serving in Iraq and that he is looking forward to leaving the war zone. When the rotation ends, James comes back to his wife and infant son. He is next seen serving on another explosive ordnance disposal unit as they are just starting their 365-day mission.

The movie offers the audiences different portraits of America, which is represented by the American troops. On one hand, the America military is framed as ordinary man with fears, doubts, and the desire to return home safely.  On the other hand, the audiences also see America as a powerful military force made up of combatants who are highly trained and also are reckless to the point of ignorance of death.

The makers of The Hurt Locker, writer Mark Boal and director Katherine Bigelow, are aware of the importance of timing in war. From the start they give us a countdown: 37 days left; 16 days left; 2 days left until the rotation ends. During war time, and in such a situation as in 2004 in Baghdad, the American soldiers have no choice but to take one day at a time because they are facing the risk of death each and every day. They look forward to the end of each day not because tomorrow is going to be different but because they are one day closer to leaving. Time ticks away, like the IEDs in Iraq, and we expect an explosion. And if they survive, they are one day closer to going home. This is reflected in the conversation between Sergeant Sanborn and specialist Eldridge. After Sergeant James is successful at defusing 6 bombs on his first mission replacing Sergeant Thompson, Aldridge says to Sanborn “Hey, it’s just 39 days.” Sanborn replies with hope “It’s 38 if we survive today” (Bigelow, 2009). In such a framing, under the military uniform, the American soldiers are depicted as ordinary fathers, brothers, and sons longing to return to their families and loved ones. At the end of the movie, Sanborn busts into tears talking to James about his concerns and fears. He says “I fucking hate this place. I’m not ready to die, James. I want a son. I want a little boy, Will. How do you do it [James]? Take the risk?” (Bigelow, 2009). This frame could be explained by writer Mark Boal’s experience in Iraq in 2004 as a journalist. This real life experience allowed Boal to frame Americans with sympathy: portraying them with fears, courage, and perspective in war. They have emotions, fears, and dreams just like any of us.

The second framing of America in the movie is clearly depicted through the character of Sergeant James. Replacing Sergeant Thompson, each mission in Baghdad pushes James harder and harder, challenging his physical skills in defusing bombs and his mental strength. We see James’s recklessness from the moment we meet him with a burning cigarette in his mouth and the heavy metal rock that he was listening to in the background. This is a man with no fears of dying, nor any cares of what others might have to say about him. In the first mission, James defies standard procedure in many ways to take on a roadside bomb in the middle of the dusty Baghdad street.  He surprises his two subordinates, Sanborn and Eldridge, by recklessly plunging them into a deadly game of combat: no communication with the team, acting based on his own judgment, and following his private agenda. James behaves as if he’s indifferent to death. The framing of James portrays America with its supreme military power, the America that marched into Baghdad with confidence that it is going to win the war against terrorism. Here, the audience is exposed to the powerful, reckless America, a country with its own agenda of no option for failures.

After dropping Sergeant James into tougher and tougher situations in combat, the movie ends with the image of James starting on a new 365-day rotation, where he is walking in the middle of the road, attempting to defuse another bomb. The open ending of the Hurt Locker was probably created intentionally by the film makers. James’s continuous effort is a picture of the open ending of the war against terrorism. It is a war that nobody knows where and when the ending would be. However, the movie does offer hope. It is a hope of endless efforts, dedication, and sacrifices from people like James. As long as the threat of terrorism is still present, there are soldiers to fight against those dark forces. And it is not just hope for America, there is also hope for the people of Iraq. The image of James making friends with the little Iraqi boy on the street does offer expectation for a third cup of tea. Despite the hash situation in war time, peace and friends making still find its way to build relationship among people. This is such a wonderful hope that The Hurt Locker is able to deliver to its views and making it different from other war movies.

Even though terrorism was not the focus of the movie, audiences are exposed to a new perspective of terrorism, portrayed in a unique frame: victim-terrorist or “body bomb.” In the first frame, the body of an Iraqi teenage, who called himself Beckham and befriended with James, is discovered by the EOD team, laid out on a table, covered in blood. His abdomen has been sliced open and there is a bomb planted inside. “Ever seen a body bomb before?” Sergeant Sanborn asks Specialist Eldridge, the youngest member of the team (Bigelow, 2009). There are many different definitions of the term “terrorism.” The United States Law Code states that “[The term] terrorism means any group practicing, or which has significant subgroups which practice, international terrorism” (United States Law Code, § 2656f).  In Terrorism and the Press, one of the definitions mentioned was from the International Encyclopedia of Terrorism: “the selective or indiscriminate use of violence in order to bring about political change by inducing fear” (Barnett & Reynolds, 2009).  From The Hurt Locker, with the framing of suicide bomber, terrorism definition is now also expressed through the concept and framing of human-bomb. While terrorism and terrorists in the media are usually depicted as evil, The Hurt Locker offers another aspect of terrorism: the terrorist is the victim, and the victim is now also a weapon. The victim of terror has become the medium of terror, a means of mass destruction, and turned into a bomb. The framing of terrorists in the Hurt Locker is expressed more clearly in a later scene when James confronts a suicide bomber. Dressed in a dark suit, the Iraqi man pleads to have the vest removed. “He is a family man, he is a good man,” the Iraqi interpreter keeps repeating (Bigelow, 2009).  James decides to defuse the vest and safe the human bomb. As Sanborn says to James, “This is suicide, man.” James replies, “That’s why they call it a suicide bomb, right?” (Bigelow, 2009).  Unfortunately, James is unable to release the vest or defuse the bomb, and for a brief moment the two characters embrace each other. They are no longer in the war of opposite sides. They hold each others’ arms, knowing the human-bomb is about to die. Again, the figure of the terrorist was portrayed more as a victim, as a human whose body was turned into bomb. The audiences find the movie makers frame the terrorists with sympathy, overcoming the usual definition of terrorism that the media has long portrayed.

The Hurt Locker is more than just a movie on the topic of war. It provides the audiences with multidimensional frames of America and the terrorists. America in The Hurt Locker, in one aspect, is the powerful force of combatants filled to the top with confidence in winning the war. In another aspect, America is full of emotions, desires, fears, and doubts. On the opposite side of the war, the terrorists are portrayed with emotions and sympathy instead of evil deed, the regular media framing concept. Thus, terrorism is framed from a deeper layer other than religions, ethnicity, citizenship, etc. And lastly, The Hurt Locker offer its audiences hope of a “third cup of teas” filled with peace and friendship.


Bigelow, K. (Director). (2009). The Hurt Locker [Motion Picture]. United States: Nicolas Chartier.

Brooke & Reynolds (2009). Terrorism and the Press. New York: Peter Lang Publishing

Cornell University Law School. § 2656f. Annual country reports on terrorism. Retrieved 4/20/2010 from—f000-.html

Journal of the American Enterprise Institute. What Makes a Terrorist. Retrieved 4/20/2010 from

Burgoyne, R. (2010, March 17). The Hurt Locker: Abstraction and Embodiment in the War Film. Message posted to

Volkan, V (2005). Suicide Bombers (University of Virginia, 2005). Retried 4/20/2010 from