Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Hurt Locker

I just saw the trailer for Katherine Bigelow’s new film, The Hurt Locker. I’d heard part of an interview with her and wanted to see it, but at the time it sounded like there wasn’t going to be a nationwide theatrical release…another one of those “wait for the DVD” movies. “Wait for the DVD” has a little bit different meaning when you live in a small town and like indie films, obviously.

The film is about Marines who do EOD work, that is, who dismantle roadside bombs. I knew a guy from my hometown who was killed doing EOD work in Iraq. The movie has gotten excellent reviews and is apparently both realistic and intense. It’s also had trouble getting distribution. I haven’t heard that it’s particularly critical of the war, but I suppose some criticism is implicit in the title--after all, it looks like they’re saying war can hurt. Anyway, the trailer was great, and what was even better was that it advertised a nationwide release on July 24. Since I finally have a break from school, I was excited.

So, I checked the local show times to find the following.

Aliens in the Attic

Funny People

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra


G-Force 3D (for extra emphasis, I guess)

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

My Sister’s Keeper


Public Enemies

The Collector

The Hangover

The Proposal

The Ugly Truth (apparently not about war)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I like action, horror, and comedy just fine, and I know that small town theaters don’t really cater to people who are looking for stuff like The Hurt Locker. So, no…I’m not saying I was surprised. But I do think there’s an interesting disconnect here. Where I live, people accuse Hollywood and filmmakers of being out of touch with America and especially with the troops. Looking at the schedule at the Starplex, I wondered who was really out of touch. There’s scarcely a whiff of reality anywhere in this line-up.

Now, I know the answer to this. We don’t need movies like The Hurt Locker here because they don’t tell the truth. They only give you the elite’s “biased” perspective on the war. This is what you’ll hear from the people who buy tickets at the Starplex. These are the same people who are taking their kids to see G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, apparently without much concern for what truths are being imparted there. G.I. Joe is barely even telling the truth when it calls itself a movie. At best, it’s a feature length toy ad, which is what it was mainly designed to be.

Isn’t this all just a matter of taste? Small town audiences are patriotic, they work hard, and they want to escape and have a good time. If New Yorkers and Austinites want to be serious and dwell on doom and gloom, that’s their choice. We all have our choices…to each his own, right? I’m not so sure. Like it or not, movies are part of a larger discourse. They all say something. What you see, and what you don’t see, when you go to the theater affects the way you perceive the world outside the theater, too. Small town America is sending its children to kill and die in the war, so it’s fair to ask what we’re watching and what we’re thinking about when we watch.

Consider the writings of Mr. Michael Ledeen, a war advocate and Washington lobbyist who could fairly be called a member of the elite. Ledeen sees small town America as a necessary source of manpower for a noble war effort. He also considers us a population of rubes who may have to be lied to if our support is to be secured. We know (yes, know) that the Bush administration shared this view and that we were lied to in preparation for the war in Iraq. Whether one supports the war is irrelevant here; the issue is why most of us supported it. Here’s where the contents of the movie marquee become interesting.

Imagine, if you have to, a world where big city elites draw on the young population of small towns for cannon fodder. Where our kids leave home and travel to the most far-fetched places to witness horrible events and suffer horrible mutilations in service of a larger agenda. And imagine that we, as parents, siblings, or friends, choose to isolate ourselves from part of the dialogue about the larger issues and the events that go along with them. More than that, we get positively offended when a filmmaker offers insights that could make us think twice about our participation.

It seems to me that if the agenda is as noble as we’d like to believe, it’s also big enough to withstand a little bit of scrutiny. So, what exactly are we afraid of? What are we really protecting when we take our kids to see G.I Joe and shield them from the likes of The Hurt Locker? I know many families who wouldn’t see the latter film because the parents don’t want their kids exposed to violence and vulgarity in movies. But what’s wrong with seeing it in the movies before they sign up for it in real life? Does it hurt more if they have a chance to think about it first?

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