The Hurt Locker and the Hollywood Circle Jerk


By Stefanie Schappert
Special to the Clyde Fitch Report

“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”

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That’s a riveting quote from former New York Times foreign correspondent and self-described socialist Chris Hedges. It’s also the opening line of The Hurt Locker, this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, which bills itself as the truest depiction of the war in Iraq we’ve seen on the big screen to date. The question is, from whose point of view?

The quote was actually pulled from Hedges’ 2002 pseudo-intellectual antiwar book, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.” According to Wikipedia, the book argues that “war seduces entire societies, creating fictions that the public believes and relies on to continue to support conflicts” — completely in line with what director Kathryn Bigelow, who also won an Oscar for her direction, repeatedly told the public about the “apolitical” nature of the movie, eh? In fact, The Hurt Locker screenplay, by journalist Mark Boal, is written from the same skewed vantagepoint as Hedges’ antiwar propaganda.

Surprise! Another lefty journalist who thinks that because he was embedded with a military unit in a war zone for three weeks, he can personally relate to the life of a soldier and in fact, be his voice! So smug about his ability to understand life down-range, Boal said this in a recent L.A. Times interview: I was only in Baghdad for about five seconds, but I felt enough of the sense of dislocation that it was meaningful to me. And I also thought it represented the guys that I knew and the statement that I wanted to make with the film, which is that people pay a price, and it’s a very grave one. All that in five seconds? Wow! Another Hollywood genius.

Yet again, Hollywood wants us to believe that they have the ability to get it right — to portray a war they’re against; to portray a military that, if they’re not mocking it in dialogue (“What were you doing out there?” “Visiting a whorehouse.” “Okay. If I let you back in, will you tell me where it is exactly?”), they’re victimizing them as those poor bastards, manipulated by the man, who are just too stupid to know better.

Enough, I say. Enough artistically lazy directors, producers and screenwriters patting each other and themselves on the back because they think they’re finally connecting with regular military Joes. They think they’ve blown the lid off some big secret. Problem is, these people couldn’t connect to a different worldview if their life depended on it. (Ironically, a soldier must do just that to keep his.) Year after year, liberal Hollywood continues to portray our soldiers as either white-trash adrenaline junkies, just like the fist-pumping meatheads we see on MTV’s Jersey Shore, or portray our combat vets like shell-shocked children unable to make sense of what Boal calls “the futility and insanity of war.”

Most liberals love to rant that our brave soldiers only join the military because they’re either poor and/or uneducated or have no other opportunities available to them, so they take that military-stamped Willy Wonka ticket to escape their small redneck existence. The thought that a person might want to be part of an organization stressing selfless sacrifice, discipline and teamwork while honoring a cause greater than themselves is alien to them. Evil military recruiters are banned from many college campuses for fear that students might — oh, no, don’t say it aloud — hear information and, God forbid, want to join the savages. To them, patriotism is just another construct developed by the powerful to control the masses. Only educated people such as themselves can really understand the way the world works.

The Hurt Locker takes on the clear message that soldiers are victims of war — almost comically so, I feel, as someone who personally knows dozens of soldiers in high-risk jobs. The major characters all suffer from various degrees of Boal’s favorite war topic, post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, he wants us to believe that Staff Sergeant James, the central character, is so dissociated from his emotions that every scene reads as if James possesses a death wish, unconcerned with who he might take down with him. Even more appalling, the viewer is led to believe that the reason for Sgt. James’ suicidal tendencies is the horrible hell he’s experienced in war. But of course.

To further explain, here’s a full movie’s description:

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An intense portrayal of elite soldiers who have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world: disarming bombs in the heat of combat. When a new sergeant, James, takes over a highly trained bomb disposal team amidst violent conflict, he surprises his two subordinates, Sanborn and Eldridge, by recklessly plunging them into a deadly game of urban combat. James behaves as if he’s indifferent to death. As the men struggle to control their wild new leader, the city explodes into chaos, and James’ true character reveals itself in a way that will change each man forever.

But the biggest fallacy perpetuated by The Hurt Locker is that good military leaders possess a loose-cannon-cowboy mentality, continuously bucking the rules in favor of their own selfish needs instead of the men they serve. That’s right — the men they serve. Any soldier worth his salt knows a team leader with a reckless disregard for the safety of his men would be quickly weeded out of any position of authority, especially for high-risk jobs like the guys in Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD). Sgt. James is so over-the-top reckless it’s laughable, proving again that Hollywood is so disconnected from the military that they really believe this type of careless, selfish behavior is the norm — and the type of leader all soldiers try to emulate. Look at this excerpt from an online review:

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He tends to be reckless, but James is the exact type of person that is best as a leader… We all make judgments, and move on with our lives, but Director Kathryn Bigelow shows the audience precisely how it feels to be an American soldier in the center of a dangerous country.

This reviewer practically foams at the mouth in praise of his Hollywood champions. And this is just one review of hundreds, all spewing the same feel-good, clueless drivel trying to convince us how much they support the military. I guess as long as they’re convinced, it’s all good.

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Another unbearable part of the film was the army psychologist popping up in various places to talk to the youngest character, who was obviously overwhelmed by his experiences. A roaming shrink who joins missions when he feels like it? All the GIs I’ve ever spoken with have never even heard of such a thing. My favorite quote from Dr. Feelgood:

You know, this doesn’t have to be a bad time in your life. Going to war is a once in a lifetime experience! It could be fun.

Who writes this shit? My Special Forces husband and I almost spewed our drinks over the couple in front of us. I was almost happy when (spoiler alert) the shrink finally got blown up in the second half of the movie.

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Now, I know I seem harsh, but these two points were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the inconsistencies, missteps and liberties that Bigelow took with her film. To her credit, I will also say there are some things she did get right, which is why I feel the movie could still be seen as a small step in the right direction. The physical environment rang true: the heat, sweat, dust, chaos of the streets, soldiers rolling through in humvees, stray cats, trash in the streets, flies everywhere, wandering herds of goats, boarded up barracks and eyes peering at you from every direction, to mention a few. It’s the first movie to show a realistic glimpse of urban combat in Iraq even though many of the tactical scenarios themselves are unlikely. Some of the dialogue between the soldiers is realistic, and the character of Sanborn is fairly on the mark. I will also give Bigelow kudos for a grocery store scene in which the viewer gets a glimpse of what it’s like for a soldier to readjust to civilian life.

And I cannot in good conscience slam The Hurt Locker for its unrealistic, victim-like portrayal of combat soldiers without mentioning that other Oscar-winning blockbuster, Avatar. You’d have to be daft not to notice the way writer-director James Cameron (Bigelow’s ex) slams the military every chance he gets. The military commander and soldiers he created are like cartoon characters with Tourette’s syndrome, constantly screaming out jarhead epithets at every turn. Cameron’s blatant plagiarism of the liberal talking points against “George Bush’s War on Terror” is so obvious that I’m surprised the ACLU hasn’t filed a lawsuit. And, like other filmmakers molded from the Hippie generation, his references to the Vietnam War were hidden in plain sight. Maybe it’s not a shocker that the Canada-born Cameron looks at war and the projection of power as he does, considering he grew up in the 1960s and ’70s. But perceptions about war and government trust have shifted dramatically since then, and now the problem is that a large portion of America doesn’t buy into Hollywood’s outdated viewpoint. Hence, all the failed Iraq war films to date.

I’m sure that many in the industry, including the crew of The Hurt Locker, believe they respect soldiers and their courage. (And I applaud Bigelow’s thanking the soldiers not once, but twice during her Oscar acceptance speech.) But it’s not a question of disrespect. It’s a question of a complete lack of understanding. If any of these Hollywood or journalist types ever portrayed the military with some truth and emotionality, I might give them the benefit of the doubt. But again, since Sept. 11, every movie the antiwar Hollywood machine has pumped out about Iraq has flopped. And although, like Avatar, The Hurt Locker gives audience members visuals they have not experienced before, it is just another disappointment in this generation’s lackluster collection of military films.

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Lest you think I’m some idiot ra-ra war cheerleader, I’m a military wife who has been through numerous deployments and I can tell you it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. But I’m proud of my sacrifice and my husband’s. I am not ashamed to love my country, imperfections and all, and support the men and women who fight for freedom all over the world. And yes, my husband has had his struggles being deployed overseas more than once; he has lost friends and knows many guys who have been wounded physically and emotionally. But we military families are sick of letting Hollywood dictate the terms of how we and our loved ones are portrayed.

Stefanie Schappert is a freelance journalist based in New York. Credits include NY1 News, Fox News Channel, and Vaccinated TV. She has worn many hats inside the newsroom: producing, writing and editing. She also has been out in the field covering stories behind the camera as well as producing and reporting. Schappert’s conservative viewpoint came into sharp focus following the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the resulting political climate. While working on the acclaimed NY1 documentary 9/11: A Day In Time, Schappert quickly embraced her role as the wife of a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier (Green Beret) deployed to the Middle East. This former NFL Cheerleader and classically trained dancer is known to hang out with quite a liberal crowd and has been the buzzkill during many a dinner party.

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