Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It Hurts Sooooo Good

I saw The Hurt Locker when it first came out - better yet, when a theater near me was willing to take a chance on not filling every single seat with some bang-bang-blow-it-all-to-pieces-with-as-much-visual-effects-that-money-can-buy- Megabuster. I must admit, the main reason I was so eager to see this film was because of its director, Kathryn Bigelow. A war film directed by a female was too good to pass up. However, my enthusiasm was kept a bit at bay by a creeping fear that the film would mimic many war films with the in-your-face, “shock-and-awe” approach to filmmaking. Needless to say, I purchased my movie ticket with crossed fingers, making my way to an echo-filled, empty theater (no surprises there).

Let me digress a bit. Many film critics and scholars have long described the moviegoing experience as escapism, expounding on the need most have to walk into a theater and spend a few hours escaping from the reality of their own world. As an aspiring filmmaker, I have been fed this unchallenged mantra in order to keep me focused on the tasks at hand. Honestly, it’s never sat well with me. That’s not to say that there’s no truth to this; I just don’t think it’s universal for all films. Sure, there are times I want to turn off the brain, forgetting the worries that life habitually piles up during the course of one’s life, and it’s during those times, I will seek out entertainment that will allow me to “escape” the reality of this world. However, these moments are few and far between. Not necessarily because I feel the need to reign it in, but because life will only allow me few opportunities to escape completely - this woe-is-me outlook is extremely counterproductive to making it day-to-day. Most of us are forced to stay grounded, whether we wish to or not, and so when we walk into a theater, our minds are still hooked up and locked on “functioning human being with a life that exists outside of these four walls”. Because of this, what we see up on screen is immediately filtered into the brain and matched to our own experience, and if it does not compute, well, we’re not going to buy into the film - no matter how much crap gets blown up or how many cool fart/piss/shit jokes are peppered in. But, this is a subject for another post. I sooooo digressed.

The Hurt Locker did not allow me one moment to run and hide from the truth. No, not the truth about war, but the truth about my own emotions - or maybe even my lack-thereof. It forced me to NOT neatly wrap the characters and situations into a nice bow and place them in a prerequisite bin of expectations. These characters were who they were, and oh, boy, were they complex, and not because of some over-analyzed character flaw, or the ever-present “up-the-tree” obstacle moment. The development of the characters and the story were not for the sake of the audience’s own expectations (mind you, an expectation that has been fed to them over their move-viewing years), but it almost felt like it was in spite of it, as if my expectations were being forced to take a back seat to the reality of the situation. Here are these men, here’s where they are, and here’s how it plays out for them. These characters were fresh, yet so familiar. They’re the ones that many of us aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers have been told to steer away from because they are too realistic, or unlikable. They don’t arc the way the audience expects. If the last decade taught us anything, life is NEVER what we expect.

I imagine that the films before The Hurt Locker that covered the Iraqi War failed to connect with an audience because they were too familiar, when there is nothing familiar about this particular war. Those of us who have no loved ones fighting overseas have gone on with life as usual. Unlike the past wars where most, if not all, Americans were directly affected, this one is so surreal to a great many Americans. This surreality is at the heart and soul of The Hurt Locker. It doesn’t force me to look at the gruesomeness of war - as Americans, we have become desensitized, numbed; we’ve learned that it’s better to bury fear and apprehension in order to go ahead with the lives we knew and loved before 9/11. The Hurt Locker does not attempt to wow us with the brutality of war; we already got that memo. Instead, it presents it to us as a simple statement: IT IS WHAT IT IS.

I’ve seen it only once, but that single viewing left me with so much to chew on. This film is so heavily layered, and each time you pull back a layer, you are presented with more beauty. I know it’s odd to use the word beauty, but there is something so lyrical about this film. While there are no fancy camera tricks or state-of-the-art CG effects, there is a simplicity that is anything but simple. How can you personify a bomb? How can you make a one-dimensional character layered? How can you make death come to life? Bigelow and her cast and crew have done this and so much more.

I am eagerly awaiting the DVD release and would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t seen this to get their hands on what will go down as a classic. I also eagerly await the Oscars with all the hope that Kathryn Bigelow will make history - seeing as she already has.