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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Hurt Locker’s Addiction to Detachment, and Ours

Posted by Aaron Bady on 03/06/10 at 10:44 AM

I’m less interested in The Hurt Locker than in the kind of problem it faces: how do you make a movie about an event that we have so thoroughly forgotten, ignored, and under-articulated as the Iraq war? The important point to make about media narratives of the Iraq war is not that they are biased—though they are, naturally—but that they are disappearing, that the media isn’t talking about the war very much at all anymore. It has become, for the popular majority of Americans, less a real war about which it is possible to have a real opinion than something vaguely unspeakable and for which no narratives quite apply. Part of it is that the politics are so strange; the war’s original supporters have now mostly given up defending the original broken-kettle reasons while the president who was elected to end it, hasn’t; it is a war we are in, which no one wants us to be in, but for which no one has any idea how not to be in. And there we are, especially as it’s a war that has gone on so long as to have become normal, a permanent state of emergency that has, as such, ceased to be a state of emergency, ceasing to be anything at all.

It may be that this was what, on some level, certain people wanted, of course, but I’m less interested in the pure politics of the event than in the representational conundrum that Kathryn Bigelow’s film is stuck in. I don’t think it’s a great film, first of all; its characters are fairly tired war-movie clichés (another cowboy who gets results? really?), its ticking time-bomb scenarios are suspenseful in almost the cheapest way possible—a literal ticking time-bomb—and the dialogue ranges from the bathetic to the banal (the line “I’m too old for this shit” badly needs to be retired). The overarching plot structure is supremely meh, since it turns out that going home to his wife and kid—which the “x days left” move has given narrative centrality—is going to be boringly and conventionally emasculating; when he tries to tell his wife (described as “not dumb; just loyal”) about the awesome-ness of bomb turning-off, her narrative function is to coldly look away and maybe order him to fetch cereal or chop mushrooms because a woman just can’t understand, you see.

But more than that, the movie can’t seem to decide what kind of a hero or anti-hero it wants its main character to be; is he teh awesome cowboy who gets results because he breaks the rules? Or is he a supreme asshole who puts the satisfaction of awesome bomb turning-off over the well being of his buddies and success of the mission? Manifestly, he is both, and the movie can’t decide if the young soldier’s eventual “fuck you” to him is where it wants to place its narrative emphasis or if Sanborn’s apparent acceptance of him is the endpoint of the movie’s narrative arc, the “how do you do it?” question that gets answered in the annoying because completely right “I don’t think about it.” Certainly he persists; the film ends with the bomb-turner-off in his suit and all seems to be well with his world, while both the soldier who has turned against him and the soldier who has accepted him fade away.

Like America, I think, this movie needs to have it both ways, which the penultimate man vs. woman narrative turn lets it do: it wipes the slate clean by making a movie that has been about men fighting with each other (the exact same Kirk-Spock dilemma, in fact, mediating the same Bush-Obama problem) into a narrative about a beset man’s melodrama of escape from the “encroaching, constricting, destroying society” of a particular feminine and domestic influence. The former story would bring up uncomfortable problems; the latter solves them in a comfortably Dodge-Charger-American-Man sort of way.

I haven’t gotten into what is good about the movie because I don’t really want to praise it; it isn’t a great movie is basically my bottom line. It isn’t a masterpiece of realism (as Brian Mockenhaupt points out, as Kate Hoit argues, and as Michael Kamber piles on) but I’m less interested in this as failure than as an indication of what kind of dream-work people are doing to defuse the problem of an Iraq war that can’t really be narrated, in the kind of competence that I think the movie both shows and argues to be the only way to tell this kind of story. People will and have called this the best movie about the Iraq war, but for one thing, what they really mean is that it’s the only Iraq war movie that’s even vaguely watchable, which is a very different thing: most Iraq movies suck because they try to tell an expansive story of the war and fail; the ones that succeed (say this one, or In the Loop) work because they scale down their ambitions and bracket off so much, emphasizing instead the claustrophobia of a particular tiny perspective (and then render that ultra-subjectivity as the objective realism of experience). By talking about how little you can see, they approach something like a truth, a pragmatic truth (as naming the protagonist “William James” sort of hamfistedly suggests).

Some critics view this as the movie’s success; David Denby says that “the specialized nature of the subject is part of what makes it so powerful, and perhaps American audiences worn out by the mixed emotions of frustration and repugnance inspired by the war can enjoy this film without ambivalence or guilt”; the fact that “The Hurt Locker narrows the war to the existential confrontation of man and deadly threat” is what it has going for it. I would say that this might be why audiences like it, but I’m massively less sanguine about making the Iraqi people disappear and turning a real war into a video-game battle against a robot enemy, against bombs that apparently explode themselves; allowing us to forget the royal clusterfuck that the war has represented for the massive masses of human beings that live in the country we’ve broken and bought is not, I would dare to suggest, a particularly good thing. David Edelstein notes that “The question of what the hell these good men are doing in a culture they don’t understand with a language they don’t speak surrounded by people they can’t read hangs in the air but is never actually called,” but makes the claim that this isn’t just the movie’s fantasy-land but rather that “this movie rises above its preachy counterparts [because it shows] why [the film’s protagonists] don’t call that into question themselves.” Again, color me unimpressed; the films protagonists don’t call that into question because they are too busy fighting a war, but the fact that soldiers have no opportunity to talk politics is not a reason we shouldn’t. We are not soldiers; the way movies like this one convince us to think a soldier’s perspective on war is the only real one, in fact, is the most pernicious thing about them.

What all these critics recognize, then, is the place we, as a country, are at with respect to the Iraq war: it really does exist, but its reality is a thing for which narrative is insufficient to our desire. Yet even as we turn away from that reality, we do at least recognize that we are not seeing it, and as it intrudes on our consciousness, we—narcissists all—reflect on that feeling of detachment. Which is why this is a movie about an addiction to adrenaline and closeness to the action: in noticing that feeling of distance, of detachment, of a war conducted at sniper range against absent enemies manifest only in their IED’s, The Hurt Locker fulfills a wish to be as close as possible not to the war but to that experience of detachment itself, an addiction to video games because they only feel real and, this, a cinema of truthiness.


Comments

er, uh, could you finish this post? It’s kinda interesting.

By Roy Scranton on 03/07/10 at 11:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I assume it’s the ‘Keats’s Hyperion‘ of Valve posts.

By Adam Roberts on 03/08/10 at 09:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Dangit! Corrected. Not sure what happened there.

By on 03/08/10 at 01:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My half-baked Unified Theory of War Films, which I may get round to baking up properly one day, is that they tend to be built around a (and moreover tend to stand or fall on the eloquence of their) governing mono-metaphor, their way of articulating ‘what war is.’ This mono-metaphor trumps, I’d say, many other aspects of the text itself (such as the rather weak appeal to ‘realism’ voiced as a reason to hate the film by some of the links you include).  For example, Apocalypse Now is a very interesting film in many ways, but its governing metaphor is ‘war is like a bad trip’, which seems to me debilitatingly mendacious; The Deer Hunter, self-indulgent sentimental tripe for much of its running time, has the advantage of a much more eloquent and, you know, true central metaphor: ‘war is a game of Russian Roulette.’

Obviously, The Hurt Locker is a film that (inter alia) says ‘war is a process of bomb disposal.’ What I like about this is the randomness with which it is played by the movie (the unearned death of the good bomb disposal guy, the unearned and unlikely continuing survival of the maverick), as well as its ambition to say something larger about the circumstances in the Middle East ... that the aim of the war in Iraq is not just killing the bad guys, but in some sense ‘defusing the situation’. And what redeems that from crassness is the way the film denies success to this project.  The man in the torso-cage near the end explodes; Beckham dies; the most that can be said is that Cowboy Bombman gets out alive, and of course he can’t stay away (the US can’t just wash its hands of the Middle East), so back in we go.

There’s some other interesting stuff in there about outsides/insides, borders and penetrations, suits of armour and dangerous holey spaces.  But that’s not worked through very coherently, in the end.  And the film’s too long, tries for too many climaxes, and can’t escape a prologue-plus-three-act Hollywoodishness.  But I guess I liked it more than you.

By Adam Roberts on 03/08/10 at 04:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ll continue my anti-pop-culture trolling with a selective edit:

“I’m less interested in The Hurt Locker . . .”

That about sums up my reaction.

By on 03/08/10 at 10:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther,
We were all waiting anxiously to hear which part of the post didn’t interest you. It’s a thing we’re all very interested in.

Adam,
I didn’t dislike it, really; it’s just that I’m much more interested in the generic problem of “the Iraq war movie” than of this particular one; it’s a well put together film, with a few interesting bits, but it’s also over-obvious in many places and, as you say, incoherent. But there’s a big difference between “only watchable Iraq war movie,” which it more or less is, and “good Iraq war movie,” which I think we’re yet to see. I’m glad Bigelow got the oscars, though I feel like this film is one of her less impressive ones (Point Break!)

But I’m surprised to hear you call the movie’s mono-metaphor bomb disposal, actually; in a film that begins with the line “war is a drug” it seems like you’ve just described a movie that this one would have been better off being, rather than the one it actually is. Which is not to deny the movie the credit of sustaining that reading as well, but I’ve been surprised by how many people who have, in describing what they like about the movie, described a different movie than the one I think I saw. One friend suggested that the movie is about the other two officers learning that the way to be healthy human beings is to not be like James—that his natural ability in war is a self-destructive cycle—and that the younger officer is the narratove center of the film, choosing between two possible role models. Another friend suggested that the entire back-hom-in-america sequence is a fantasy or a dream. I’m not sure. I do like your reading of the film better than the film itself.

As for whether the film is realistic or not, I think the question is sort of important; since The Hurt Locker has so often been talked about as “not political” (a silly description, but there you go), highlighting the kinds of choices the filmmakers made in creatively mis-describing reality illustrates the kinds of politics the movie does have. All the ways it’s unrealisitc illustrate what kinds of ideological investments it has (creating cowboy in the desert scenarios because it’s uninterested in military culture, for example).

By Aaron Bady on 03/09/10 at 12:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Aaron, it’s odd to me that you complain about both the “cheapness” of the ticking time bomb and the ultimate irrelevance of the “x days left” maneuver, because I see those things as intentionally connected in the film.  After all, the number of days left in Iraq is a kind of reverse ticking time bomb—we’re all praying that the number will reach zero before any of the principals die, and surely it’s not a coincidence that the only bomb with a timer enters the film just as the tour comes to an end.  And yet as soon as the Days Left counter reaches zero, it turns out to have been a meaningless measurement, since it’s almost immediately right back at 365.  The climax of the ticking time bomb—it either goes off or it doesn’t, they get out alive or they don’t—is undermined by the film’s portrayal of perpetual ticking, where only the circumstances, and occasionally the personnel, change.

I also don’t see why the uncomprehending wife need stand for “women”; it seems more likely to me that she stands for a home front which has no conception of what things are like in Iraq, which obviously is something that Iraq veterans deal with constantly (and other veterans as well; Paul complains of the same thing in All Quiet On the Western Front) and which contributes to PTSD.  “We’re not soldiers” indeed, but The Hurt Locker gives us the soldier’s perspective to help us understand the horror and futility of the war; whereas (for instance) I thought that Syriana was ruined, as film and as protest, by its excessive didacticism and use of dry, statistical arguments about America’s policy in the Middle East.

***

Luther, should we take it from your comment that you didn’t see the film?  That’s a bold new approach for you.  Perhaps soon you can start complaining about movies that haven’t come out yet, or even better, movies that haven’t been made—that would allow you to dramatically increase your contributions to the Valve.

By tomemos on 03/09/10 at 03:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Tomemos,
I meant “cheap” in the sense that the suspense of having a ticking time bomb on screen is just narratively easy, like playing scary music or putting a cute child on screen, or whatever. re: ticking time bomb more generally, I see that a bit more after mulling over Adam’s post, actually; I suspect the “war is a drug” line (and “addiction to adrenaline” theme) caused me to not really think some of the nicer things the movie does along those lines, which is really thr underlying problem with the film: first it beats you over the head with a didactic moral (WAR IS A DRUG!) and then it follows it up with all sorts of narratives that are interesting for different reasons. Which is to say, it’s a good movie and I’ll see it again, with pleasure, but it’s also flawed the incoherence with which the interesting stuff in it gets articulated together.

As for the wife, you don’t find it to be an unnecessary gendering of the home front / war zone distinction? This is a movie with one woman in it, and literally her only function is to be insensitive to his band-of-brothers war stories. She certainly does stand for an incomprehending home front, but she also adds a gender narrative to a reality that doesn’t need to be portrayed that way (and one that has a long history in american pop culture; the cowboys are always being corralled into domestic boringness and then lighting out for the territories to maintain their boyish freedom, etc, etc).

By on 03/09/10 at 03:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I had completely forgotten about the Chris Hedges quote that opens the film (I even read that book), which suggests that you’re right that it doesn’t fit the movie particularly well.

I can’t find verification online, but I did see the movie quite recently: in the scene in the kitchen, I didn’t think he was telling his wife fun stories about defusing bombs; I thought he was talking about a bomb that did go off in Iraq with horrible consequences, and that her response amounted to, “I’d rather not think about such unpleasant things” (rather than, “Your strange masculine world is incomprehensible to me").  But I wouldn’t swear that I heard it right.  Regardless, I agree that she’s not much of a character.

By tomemos on 03/09/10 at 05:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Tomemos,
You’re right about that correction; it was the sort of gruesome story you describe he was telling, and her reaction was fully comprehensible. Still, though, I’m struck by the choice to make the entirety of the “back home” world into the cloying boring domestic space she embodies; the mundanity of cereal, cooking, etc stands in a really stark contrast to the band of brothers adrenaline rush world that is video-game Iraq.

By on 03/09/10 at 09:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t see much point in trying to tell people they should like what they don’t (and even less in telling them they shouldn’t like what they do), but for whatever it’s worth as evidence I and my companion didn’t gather “a woman just can’t understand” from those scenes—she wasn’t drawn nearly as ign’ant-civvie-selfish as stock characters from Virginia Mayo on. Her resigned distance seemed an established and essential part of their relationship and the blankness of her character in the film reflected her husband’s lack of interest. Admittedly, free indirect discourse is a tricky thing to convey in movies, but note how this edges towards the “fantasy” interpretation without actually violating the rules of the game.

That said, the most important difference in our experiences may be that I-and-date actually like the war genre—like the gangster and police procedural genres, it’s one of the few ways movies have ever been able to show people at work—and we were more delighted than any sane non-cinephile would be to see a new American movie which actually managed to do its genre job competently. I don’t know if this will hold up as well as Sam Fuller or Don Siegel, but it’s surely the only Oscar-nominated movie I’ve seen in years that raised the question. The deflationary thrown-away quest was an unexpectedly mocking update of Fuller’s sentimental kid scenes; the cowboy was contextualized backwards and forwards; and although my heart sank when I saw we were going to have a homecoming, the way it played out justified it as a volunteer-army replacement for the old choice between “everyone dead,” “everyone happy to be discharged,” “everybody signing up in a patriotic frenzy” finales. Yeah, nothing new or interesting was done with the “blow the idiot officer up” game, but the movie didn’t fuck up out of pure laziness and for this movie-going relief we gave thanks.

Irving Howe only knows what 1950s literary academics thought of Fuller’s war movies, though. Their portraits of Koreans aren’t what I’d call well rounded.

By Ray Davis on 03/10/10 at 12:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

And what redeems that from crassness is the way the film denies success to this project.  The man in the torso-cage near the end explodes; Beckham dies;

No, he doesn’t. Beckham survives the film.

Come on, it’s Hollywood! The bombs have big red countdown displays and the cute kid never gets killed! I’m just amazed the EOD team didn’t have a puppy.

By on 03/10/10 at 07:40 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought Beckham’s was the corpse with the bomb in its guts? And his place in the camp economy is taken over by some other interchangeable Iraqi boy?  I could be wrong ...

By Adam Roberts on 03/10/10 at 08:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Nope, that’s Beckham who reappears towards the end, selling DVDs again. The corpse is some other kid; James just thinks it’s Beckham.
It confused me on first watching too.

By on 03/10/10 at 11:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree with Ajay that Beckham turns out to be alive, but I certainly don’t agree (if he was serious about this) that that indicates some kind of happy Hollywood moment.  I didn’t feel any relief upon seeing him there; I felt shock at realizing that James was cracking up, and that his confident cowboy persona was not only reckless but actually based on false perceptions.  Nor does James feel relief, or even any kind of outward surprise, upon seeing Beckham alive, which indicates that the search for Beckham’s killers was not really about Beckham for him.  Besides which, even if Beckham’s alive, some kid has been killed and stuffed with a bomb; even if it’s not the kid who swears delightfully, how could that be redemptive?

And for heaven’s sake, exactly one bomb in the film has a countdown.

By tomemos on 03/10/10 at 01:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Adam’s “I could be wrong...” is the result of the “unexpectedly mocking update” I mentioned earlier. Some other war movies have pointed out that the murderous sentimentality inspired by a particular cute kid blinds soldiers (and movie audiences) to the plight of kids more generally. The Hurt Locker is the first war movie I’ve seen which goes on to point out that it also blinds them (and us) to the particularities of the kid himself. It’s rare that I think a movie actually does have any chance of “implicating its audience,” but I thought this one pulled it off—I was confused just long enough for the revelation to have a punch to it.

(Admittedly, one could also say that any confusion was due to incompetent filmmaking, and that’s certainly how I’ve reacted to talk about the “formal innovations” of Inglourious Basterds and Public Enemies. For whatever it’s worth, my interpretation matches the views of the screenwriter and director.)

By Ray Davis on 03/10/10 at 02:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

but the fact that soldiers have no opportunity to talk politics is not a reason we shouldn’t. We are not soldiers; the way movies like this one convince us to think a soldier’s perspective on war is the only real one, in fact, is the most pernicious thing about them.

I think you hit the nail on the head here, but with the critics and fans of The Hurt Locker and not the movie itself. I thought it was decent, but the movie had no greater ambitions but to show people at work, as Ray Davis says upthread. The fact that it has have had heaps of praise (Best Picture! Best Director!) for its lack of didacticism and filmmaking mastery says more insidious things about the audience than the crew. I don’t think the filmmakers had any greater ambition than to make a thrilling action movie without offending anyone but couldn’t escape controversy since they were setting it in the Iraq War anyhow. Imagine if this movie took place in Los Angeles with a SWAT bomb disposal crew or some such, how much steam would the movie generate then?

By on 03/10/10 at 08:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

And for heaven’s sake, exactly one bomb in the film has a countdown.

Yep, and I’d be willing to bet that that’s one more than in the entire Iraq War.

My “it’s Hollywood!” criticism wasn’t entirely serious, but the film does suffer from this Hollywoodisation from time to time, notably in the terrible (and terribly unrealistic) sniper sequence.

So, they were driving along way out in the desert (why? going where?) on their own, in a single vehicle (WTF?) and they just happen to stumble across a team of bounty hunters (we don’t need these scum!) who are on their own in a single vehicle too (of course) with a couple of HVTs that they’ve picked up in Najaf (NAJAF?? FFS, it would have been more realistic if they’d been found in Petah Tiqva!) and then they start getting sniped by some insurgent super-sniper who can get kills at 800m with an AK (good grief) and who, instead of running away before the inevitable airstrike gets called in, decides to stick around for hours sniping at them (sensible) which is OK because it turns out that for some reason none of the EOD guys have any radios or even a satphone, and neither do any of the bounty hunters (riiight) but it’s OK because the EOD guys all turn out to be supersnipers themselves! and get first-shot kills with a Barrett Light 50 (okaaay)...

I mean, really. It’s like that whole sequence wandered into the script from “GI JOE”. It’s almost best to think of it as some bizarre dream that James was having or something.

By on 03/11/10 at 06:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

An aside on the sniper scene ajay objects to and why it seems out of place - it was specifically written for financial reasons (scroll to the bottom) - which says interesting things about the relationship between filmmaking and commerce but anyway. I didn’t find it significantly more implausible than the ‘countdown’ framing device or the character of the counselling officer. Those narrative artifices were much easier to accept than the movie’s very deliberate narrowing of the Iraq war to these soldiers’ lived experience. Is this really the best that Hollywood can do?

By on 03/12/10 at 01:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The word “Hollywood” seems to be doing two things in the last few comments.  One is acting as a synonym for “poetic license.” The other is acting as a profane epithet.

By tomemos on 03/12/10 at 01:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

cel, that’s very interesting! Thanks!

As for the “countdown” device:

Remember Hitchcock’s distinction between shock and suspense?
You film people sitting talking at a table. Suddenly a bomb blows up and devastates the room. That’s shock.

Now, you film the same scene, but you cut away to the bomb. Back to the people, oblivious of it. Back to the bomb, focussing on the timer. Back to the people. Back to the bomb - only a few seconds to go… That’s suspense.

What The Hurt Locker did well was to get a third sensation: uncertainty. You didn’t know whether the bomb was a dud; whether it was about to go off in ten seconds or five minutes or an hour; whether someone was about to set it off by phone… you don’t know what you’re meant to be feeling. (A sensation also evoked by killing off one of the only name actors in the first five minutes and using no-namers for the main characters; you don’t know who’s going to last or who’s the hero.)
I don’t know what you call that - “tension” maybe - but it was excellent, and felt real, and they sacrificed it for the Big Digital Timer bomb. Which was a bad decision.

By on 03/12/10 at 01:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So, they were driving along way out in the desert (why? going where?) on their own, in a single vehicle (WTF?) and they just happen to stumble across a team of bounty hunters (we don’t need these scum!) who are on their own in a single vehicle too (of course) with a couple of HVTs that they’ve picked up in Najaf (NAJAF?? FFS, it would have been more realistic if they’d been found in Petah Tiqva!) and then they start getting sniped by some insurgent super-sniper who can get kills at 800m with an AK (good grief) and who, instead of running away before the inevitable airstrike gets called in, decides to stick around for hours sniping at them (sensible) which is OK because it turns out that for some reason none of the EOD guys have any radios or even a satphone, and neither do any of the bounty hunters (riiight) but it’s OK because the EOD guys all turn out to be supersnipers themselves! and get first-shot kills with a Barrett Light 50 (okaaay)...

I’m still not convinced that ‘the reality of the war in Iraq’ is actually the best criterion against which to judge this movie (Though plenty of people are doing just that, in several of the links Aaron includes in his post. And find it wanting, unsurprisingly).  Maybe the handheld-y jolty-cut visual grammar codes ‘pseudo-documentary’ so strongly to us now that we rush to apply those standards.  But to think about the film for half a minute is, surely, to realise that it’s not going for ‘documentary verisimilitude’ in its larger project.  This does not mean it’s being deliberately careless, or mendacious. It just means that we may be better served by different critical criteria.

Of course soldiers don’t go running about by themselves in modern war.  That this film repeatedly shows soldiers doing just that may simply be a deporable blot; or it may be that the film is interested in the extent to which war does not involve slotting yourself neatly into a ‘band of brothers’; the extent to which it is isolating, alienating, solitary—existentially, I mean.

By Adam Roberts on 03/13/10 at 05:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m still not convinced that ‘the reality of the war in Iraq’ is actually the best criterion against which to judge this movie

But there’s still some value to verisimilitude, surely?

And also, if “the film is interested in the extent to which war does not involve slotting yourself neatly into a ‘band of brothers’; the extent to which it is isolating, alienating, solitary—existentially” - and if this isolation really exists in war - then it should be possible to depict it in a realistic war film! If the only way for you to depict the isolation of war is to make a film full of things that don’t really happen in real wars, then maybe you should revisit your assumption that war is isolating.

By on 03/15/10 at 07:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hmm late for this one - forgive me if I uninvitedly stumble upon this. Me and my GF were in opposition last night about whether the Barret Light 50 was British or US design (she’s British and self-deprecating but I was right it’s really a WW1 bullet with some hydraulics added to the rifle).

But that film! These guys laughing defusing 155mm shells and then turning to jelly when they find some guy in the desert who can hit them with an AK (at 800 metres apparently) with no scope? And these innocents run out of carrot juice? I mean WTF? It just loses the thread there, no airstrike, “oops there’s another insurgent pretending to be a goat should I feel OK about shooting him or am I actually gay and never realised it do I need to speak to the Colonel”, etc.

The other screwed up thing about this film is the bit with the body bomb. What function does that scene serve? Except for the director to admit “I’m not David Cronenburg and this isn’t ‘Existenz’ and that deeply disturbs me cos I paid for the SFX”?

Don’t even get me started on the politics…

By on 03/23/10 at 05:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

it’s interesting if you compare these recent Iraq war films to the whole hackneyed Vietnam war film discourse - the painstaking clawback of denial ("we were misunderstood, we were innocents abroad, we actually won - no really we actually did win, these people were inhuman” etc). the tasteless thing today is that people are making entertainment and box-office scores out of something that is still very much in progress

By on 03/23/10 at 06:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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