On March 7th, 2010, Kathryn Bigelow walked home with 6 golden statues and the title of first female director in history to take home an Oscar of “Best Director”. Sergeant First Class William James, the main character in The Hurt Locker conveys to the audience what it is like to take part in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, disarming bombs. The bomb specialist, through instilling great amounts of fear, drove this film to honor however, of the many depictions created on the war on Iraq, why was it that this movie took home the majority of the Oscar pie? Character development and cinematic elements placed the viewer between the detonation wires but may have also placed a barrier between the sensationalized story and harsh realities that have taken place during the war.

            Being that The Hurt Locker is a film produced in the U.S.A. about the Iraqi war, it would seem obvious that the film will have some bias towards terrorism and war. The majority of the film consists of a United States Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team in situations where they are brought in to deal with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in civilian environments. The Iraqi fighters would use unconventional methods of warfare that put civilians in harm’s way, and the EOD team is usually brought in to prevent the potential carnage.  This alone creates a level of tension and antagonism towards the terrorists.

There are also a few other elements that help the image of the West in this film. The team leader, Sergeant First Class William James, bonds with an Iraqi boy named Beckham and shows a more compassionate side towards the Iraqis. When he discovers a body used a bomb and believes that it is Beckham, he becomes emotionally torn. This creates more animosity towards the terrorists.

Another element that helps the image of the West is the level of intensity and caution from the U.S. Army. At first, one would see this as negative towards the Army since they may be seen as being overly aggressive and oppressive towards the Iraqis, often times just disregarding them and verbally abusing them. However, the terrorists would attack them in ways that would surprise both the characters and the audience by disguising them as normal civilians, which would justify the sense of caution from the Army. For example, when the therapist was politely brushing people along, the West’s sympathetic side was displayed which resulted in the man instantly blowing up.

Also, character perspective plays a huge part in defining how the West is portrayed. The audience is usually viewing the story through the eyes and weapons of the EOD team, which create a level of understanding and connection with the characters. When the Iraqis are shown, they are usually speaking Arabic (aside from Beckham), which alienates the Iraqis in the film. This creates somewhat of a bias in the understanding of the Iraqis and allows the audience to formulate assumptions that they are being aggressive, by means of regular shouting throughout the course of the movie. However, one that comprehends the Arabic language will come to understand that this intensity was nothing but the frequent insurgents cry of “يالى, يالى” or “Yalla, Yalla!” which simply translates to “Come on, come on!” (Arabic language, 2010). 

In terms of cinematography, the opening scene of the movie was a camera feed from a robot traveling towards a bomb which is, naturally, shaky. Throughout the remainder of The Hurt Locker, the movie’s perspective is shot through a 16mm camera lens, making the picture grainy and shaky. This greatly contributed to the sense of realism in the film, practically strapping the audience to the bomb timer waiting for the hero to arrive and stop the ticking. 

 Also, most Iraqis that are killed are usually shown at a distance, making the target seem less personal and human. All of these elements direct the audience to feel more compassion for the Army’s cause, and a general sense of distrust towards the terrorists.

Throughout the course of this semester it has become apparent that the concept of terrorism, while obvious at times, has been difficult to define. According to Merriam-Webster, terrorism is defined as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion” (Merriam-Webster, 2010). This definition is vague in the fact that the word “terror” itself would need to be specifically defined, leaving terrorism to constitute a broad range of possible scenarios. For example, in this film, there are a variety of forms of terror: the terror of the bomb squad, the fear of the local civilians and the unknown and invisible fear of those placing the bomb. When my Lebanese pen pal, Winston Smith[1] described to me his feelings towards the film and how terrorism was portrayed he stated, “The directors never show the person behind the bomb who they themselves were probably terrorized originally for having created an explosive, we never see their fear” (W. Smith, personal communication, April 18, 2010).

The initial target needs to be determined in order to further define terrorism. For example, in this film the insurgents are combating the U.S.A. government directly depicted through the killings of the American troops. Since the EOD group is combating an emotionless explosive, which we are unable to connect a face too, we are unfamiliar with the real intent behind each bomb and simply assume that the main target is the American troops and that they are Iraqi bombs.  Though the target is ambiguously defined, the American troops are portrayed as having no intent of engaging in warfare, and in turn a part of terrorism.

The perspective of The Hurt Locker is important to observe in defining terrorism in this script, since in any time of war and combat, right and wrong becomes distorted and each side may consider themselves as the victim. The victims throughout this movie were mainly the EOD group, the heroes that were attempting to untangle the villains mess. What one must realize though is that heroism and villainy are just two sides of the same coin, and the definition of terrorism will remain in the hands of the definer.

The Hurt Locker doesn’t really show any hints of possible solutions to the global war. In fact, it shows that an addiction to war is created and may result in more war to relieve the cravings. Monica Marie’s Greek pen pal Markela stated that The Hurt Locker presented the war as a drug and the government feeds this addiction, leaving the people “psychologically compelled to fight terrorism at all costs.” There is no proactive fight towards the terrorists, and the events that took place were mostly reactionary, with the EOD team being called in after a bomb is found or a situation arises.

In the scene where the Sergeant James was attempting to disarm a father with several explosives strapped to his body, he was save the man. The Iraqi father had nothing to do with bombs or terrorism and simply wanted to be saved, screaming, “I have a family! I just want to go back to my family!” Whereas the American, Sergeant James, had the opportunity to return home but even after the team’s time was over, he returns for another year of service, choosing the bomb instead.  This craving of war, suspense, fear, and psychological trauma that permeates armed conflict depicts the continuation of attacks and IED situations that exists, and the need for EOD teams and military involvement is far from being over.

The idea of combating terrorism was shown in this film, but in a short term, ineffective matter. The EOD team’s purpose of fighting terrorism one bomb at a time does not successfully combat terrorism but rather leaves the situation at a standstill. An article on military strategy titled “Iraq Builds a Hurt Locker”, describes how there has been a recent increase in training for Iraqi EOD specialists which will enable Iraq to take over EOD duties from American units. The author goes further to state “there are still a lot of military explosives in Iraq, buried or hidden away. The Iraqi EOD personnel will be busy for a long time.” This demonstrates the inefficiency in combating terrorism through EOD personnel even in the real world, and gives no hope for solution. 

 The honored Hurt Locker portrays the American bomb squad simply placing a band aid over a bullet wound and leaving the audience in desperation. While this may seem to stop the bleeding, it will not heal the wound; the bullet needs to be removed, the wound needs to be stitched and it needs time to heal. It may seem as though the EOD team is momentarily stopping the bleeding, the hole will still remain, and in fact it may simply invoke the “terrorists” cause and could probably get worse.


(2010, Apr. 18 ). In Arabic Language. Retrieved Apr. 18, 2010, from http://www.arabic-language.org

Iraq builds a hurt locker. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htcbtsp/articles/20100310.

Marie, M. Markela’s thoughts on the Hurt Locker. Retrieved April 18, 2010, from http://terrpress.personal.asu.edu/?s=markela

terrorism. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved April 20, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terrorism


[1] Winston Smith is a pseudonym. Subject did not wish to utilize his real name.