The same could be said of the US military. During WWII, it grew to massive size to defeat Nazi Germany and militarist Japan. During the Cold War, the rationale was resisting and fighting communism. One might have expected a scaling down of the military after the fall of the USSR, but the military only grew larger under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Many industries have grown addicted to military development and expansion. Many politicians have grown addicted to military power as the symbol of national power and glory–despite the fact that our ‘empire’ abroad is bleeding us dry. Many young males–and females–have grown addicted to the military career as jobs have seen off-shored to other countries. And Jewish Neocons have become addicted to American military power as an instrument of Zionist policy. Republicans, having little to offer to the American people, drum up militarism as the last bastion of patriotic fervor. Liberals, not to be outdone, do much the same. Besides, both GOP and Democratic politicians come from states which relies on military bases or military-related industries. Much of it is about pork.
HURT LOCKER is about men on the ground, what we might call the ‘honest soldier’. But it’s so simple as Bigelow and Boal present these soldiers as more than just pawns in a game. CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER–with Harrison Ford–presented a picture where political bigshots were the bad guys while US soldiers assigned to duty–and then abandoned–were rock solid heroic good guys. Notwithstanding the fact that chickenhawk Neoconservatives pulled a lot of strings to take US into the Iraq War, it is bogus to say that every US soldier on the ground is an innocent, a victim of corrupt politicians. Bigelow and Boal are right to show that many–if not all–US soldiers also get a kick out of militarism and war.
Of course, no one wants to be shot or blown up, but the fact remains that there is a thrill in being shot at–and firing back–and feeling the adrenaline around danger zones.
HURT LOCKER gives us three characters, each of whom is half unique and half archetypal. They function as individual characters but also serve as certain social-cultural-mental-emotional types. The main character William James–played by James Renner–is a war lover, much like the character of John Hersey’s novel of that title. It’s not that he likes to kill people, but he loves being at the center of action, danger, and attention. As Ernest Hemingway said, there is nothing as powerful as war. We all know war is hell, but it is also a spectator sport or videogame. Of course, war is miserable for most civilians and hellish for crippled or dead soldiers and their relatives. Also, few people would actually want war to come to their own towns. Even William James wouldn’t want bombs to fall where his family lives. We all want peace and safety for our loved ones. But, peace and safety can be boring. For men with a sense of adventure or wanderlust, war is the thing. Nothing tests a man’s mettle like war. It’s no wonder that among the most fundamental literary texts of the Western canon are The Iliad and the Odyssey. Iliad is about war, horrible but overpowering and thrilling. The Odyssey is about a man who has to fight his way home. Odysseus wants to return home, but it’s the dream of home that is more alluring and romantic than actually coming home, which can only be anti-climactic. To cherish and dream of home, one must be away from home.
William James obviously cares for home and his wife–or woman–and child, but when he’s home, his mind longs for the war zone. It’s as if he has two homes. James the husband and father is at home at home. James the warrior is at home in war. It’s the hunter instinct which makes him want to roam, fight, struggle, conquer.
Granted, not all nor even most soldiers feel or think this way. Many serving in Iraq and Afghanistan would probably just come back home and forget about the whole thing. But, there are people for whom war is more than a political or military objective; it is a psychological, even spiritual, fix.
In the opening scene of APOCALYPSE NOW, we hear Capt. Willard’s voice-over narration about how all he could think about was getting back in the jungle when he was home on furlough. In the movie RIGHT STUFF, those jet pilots and astronauts get high on danger and risk, on pushing the envelope. Though only a relatively small number of people are willing to go so far as climb mountains or skyscrapers or walk the tightrope for a fix, we are all addicted to need for thrill and excitement. Perhaps, the most infantile-ized form of this is the theme park roller coaster ride or the horror movie. It may scare the hell out of us, but we know at every turn that it’s just for thrills. But for some people, make-believe isn’t enough. They must push the limit. They want to feel the thrill of being face to face with the real danger, real death.
HURT LOCKER has one such character, William James. His foils are Sgt. Sanborn and Specialist Eldrige. Clearly, Sanborn and Eldrige signed up for the military because they believe in the warrior code and all that, but they don’t see war as a game where they must prove something–to others or to themselves. Their main goal is to win or, at the very minimum, survive. Probably most soldiers are like Sanborn or Eldrige. But, there are the William Jameses of the world–in all levels of society. If William James worked in Wall Street, he would be a big gambler. As a gangster, he would be want to top henchman. As an athlete, he would want to be champion. Normality and mediocrity are simply not in his game plan. (He’s like those boxers who keep fighting even though they don’t have a chance of winning the championship. They need some higher goal in life, no matter how elusive. They need to be in the center of action.) Many viewers may admire him because our culture is obsessed with EXTREME shows on TV–like who can eat a live snake or lie in a tub filled with scorpions? ‘Reality shows’ test contestants to see who has the toughest nerves–or the smallest brain as far I’m concerned. But, if most TV contestants are dufuses looking for 15 minutes of fame, there is indeed something admirable–though also dark and disturbing–about Sgt. William James. He goes for the REAL thing and is obviously a man of great skill. He is also odd in his emotional makeup. He loves EXTREMES but is usually soft-spoken and withdrawn. He’s easygoing but intense. He’s ultra-competitive but also laconic in demeanor. There is a kind of bipolar madness held under check by granite will. Perhaps, William James senses on some level that he is a time bomb himself and feels the need to be distracted by or occupied with other bombs, lest he trigger something within his dark soul and set off an explosion. It’s kinda like some highly aggressive men would likely be criminals if they weren’t police officers. Violent by nature, they must fight crime if they aren’t to be tempted by crime.
To an extent the bombs in HURT LOCKER serve as metaphors for humans. Externally, the film is about men trying to defuse bombs strewn across Iraq, but internally the film is about the bombs inside the hearts of men. Every person is a capable of blowing up and being destructive. Just consider the Columbine and V-Tech killers. But as HURT LOCKER demonstrates with bombs, what really matters is the WIRING. William James generally works with wires than with bombs themselves. A bomb, no matter how powerful, is inert without the wiring. Similarly, what we do with our bodies is a matter of wiring. Faulty wiring leads to mayhem and murder. Anyone can physically pick up a gun and shoot people at random. Most of us don’t because of proper wiring in our brains. But, psychopaths and sociopaths have faulty wiring which makes them explode and do crazy stuff like shooting a whole bunch of kids in school. This fault wiring could be genetic or a product of prolonged social trauma or stress. Even so, all of us have the capacity for massive destruction, and there is no such thing as a perfectly normal person. Evolution designed organisms to be capable of aggression and competition. There’s conflict among nations but also among individuals. There is also conflict within every individual between the ‘good’ and ‘evil’, reason and unreason, the sacred and the profane, the egocentric and the empathetic. The presence of a psychologist in HURT LOCKER suggests to the problems of wiring within the human psyche. (Bigelow shares something with Walter Hill in that though she’s aware of psychology, she feels man must ultimately be measured by what he does.)
Indeed, much of HURT LOCKER isn’t so much about Americans vs Iraqi insurgents as about Americans vs Americans. The three main characters–James, Sanborn, and Eldridge–work closely and rely on each other, but they are not easy partners, especially James and Sanborn. There is something of ‘kid’ in Eldridge. He’s a fresh-faced lad, a good guy, and fine soldier. But, he’s a natural follower than a leader. He’s not a man of initiative but one who prefers taking orders. He’s either naturally a beta male or as yet too green to be truly manly.
Sanborn, the black guy, is a more interesting character. He is physically and emotionally made of iron. If he can’t lead an assignment, he at least wants to be an integral team member and be fully appreciated for his input and effort. In the opening scene of the movie, he seems to have good rapport and mutual respect with Sgt. Matt Thompson, who is killed and replaced by the radioactive William James. William James is like a walking nuclear reactor, which may account for fearless forays into danger zones. It’s as if he intuitively feels that he himself is the biggest bomb around. Though possessed of great self-control, we sense instability lurking underneath. He reminds us of the Tom Sizemore character in STRANGE DAYS–also by Kathryn Bigelow. Sizemore’s character was cool and helpful on the outside, dark and violent inside. If he ultimately turned out to be evil, William James ultimately comes across as a ‘good guy’. But both share a certain thrill-seeking/power-lusting nihilism. Both act as agents serving to defuse mounting social tensions or military crises but thrive in such environments. They are to constant crises what bees are to honey. In a way, William James is a more intelligent and socially competent version of Travis Bickle of TAXI DRIVER. Just as Bickle could not leave the city he loathed, James cannot tear himself from battle even as the stress drives him to the edge. He’s what one might call a warcenary. A mercenary loves money and will kill for it. A warcenary loves war and will sacrifice everything–sanity, happiness, family life, friends, etc–for it. Just as some fireman are obsessed with fire–not merely as profession but as the holy grail–, William James only truly feels at home at war.
HURT LOCKER has been hailed as the first great Iraq War movie, but not really. HURT LOCKER is actually closer to FULL METAL JACKET(or even THIN RED LINE) than to other films about the Iraq War. Both HL and FMJ, though set in particular wars, are really about the psycho-mythology of war than about specific realities of a particular war. One could add APOCALYPSE NOW to the list as well. If the Oliver Stone triology–PLATOON, BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY, and HEAVEN & EARTH–were clearly meant to be about the Vietnam War and if SANDS OF IWO JIMA, BIG RED ONE, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN are about WWII, HURT LOCKER, though keen on the details of the Iraq War, mainly focuses on what war–any war–means to human psychology. William James could have been just as well a character in WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, or the Gulf War.
Indeed, he shares the name with a man who is considered the greatest psychologist in American history. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James His specialty was the philosophy of religion, and his masterpiece is considered to be VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES–some of which were drug-induced. Perhaps, the main character having the same name as the psychologist was mere coincidence, but it’s undeniable that the ‘hero’ seems to find some kind of mystical communion within the realm of war. And of course, drugs, stress(induced externally or internally), and mystical experience have always been inter-related throughout history–from soma of the ancient Hindus to self-flagellation during the Middle Ages to LSD of Bigelow’s boomer generation. If war is William James’s drug, it can also be said to be his spiritual high.
Religion gives us a glimpse into the connection between the instant and eternity, between life and death. The core of religion is dualistic, with simultaneity running through its entire length. It allows us to feel both flesh and spirit, the here & now and forever, happiness and sorrow, sin and redemption, birth and death. William James’s religion is the Zen of Bomb Defusing. It is in the heart of such activity that he feels most alive, paradoxically because he’s closest to death. He feels most important, almost god-like, with all eyes fixed on him. He also feels most humble, as the slightest glitch can kill him. He also has the dirtiest job, which reminds us of Dirty Harry–“Every dirty job that comes along.” He feels like a man of granite, a lion of steel–invincible and unbreakable. Yet, he also knows he can be splattered into a million pieces.
As Jesus was both all-powerful as God and all-vulnerable as man, William James is both bigger than any General and lower than any private. He’s a whore assigned to the dirtiest jobs and a god who saves entire blocks–and who-knows-how-many-lives–from destruction.
Though it may be stretching it, there is even a dual sexual quality about his work. Though tough and manly, his work requires a kind of feminine gentleness and patience. In a way, he’s like a midwife delivering a baby.
The spiritual element of his speciality is driven home when he’s confronted with an Iraqi man booby-trapped with a TIME bomb. No amount of his ingenuity, talent, and experience can undo this predicament. He can undo bombs but not reverse time. The doomed man kneels and prays to Allah before he blows up. In a way, it’s a simple enough action scene, but it can also be interpreted as battle between Man and God. William James is Man with a Promethean will to steal fire from the gods. He has overcome the fear and anxiety that make most men run and hide from. He’s as fearless as they come. But even he has to run as time keeps ticking away. In the end, nothing is greater than Time and God. In previous instances of defusing bombs, James could work at his own pace. Under supreme duress held in check by iron will and meditative concentration, it was as if James entered into a state of mind where time is suspended or non-existent–at one point, he even tosses away the headphone as if to cut off all links with human reality. A state of mind where time is suspended must feel like eternity, as if one entered the realm of God. So, it is crucial that in the later scene, the time bomb reminds James of his humanity and mortality. Even so, it’s as though William James feels nearest to God when he challenges the limits attributed to Man by God.
James is also like some of the obsessive people in our lives. They may be supremely gifted and skilled, but they want to be work on their own terms. I knew someone who was good with computers. I once took my computers to his house for him to fix. It was a simple enough problem, but that didn’t interest him. He found one problem after another after another–most of them trivial and insignificant for my needs or purposes–, but he insisted on checking everything, and he got very testy when I told him I only wanted him to look into one single problem. It was almost like he took an obsessive interest in the computer. He ignored the fact that I had to wait for hrs and hrs for things I didn’t care about. It was either HIS way or the highway. In other words, there are computer geeks and then there are COMPUTER GEEKS!! William James, tough and manly as he is, is a kind of super war geek with a kind of cyberpunk-ish obsession with explosive devices.
For whatever reason–class background, lack of education, lack of connections, personality type, predilection for asocial behavior, etc–, he isn’t destined for glory in socially stable America. Without war, he would probably be a policeman chasing down crackheads, fireman hanging around the firehouse, or an air conditioner repairman. His greatest talent–fearless courage–wouldn’t be of much use in a normal society. To fix a car or heater requires skill but not courage. To defuse a bomb requires as much courage as skills. Nobody calls a car repairman a god or hero. I suppose there is sports, but very few have access to athletic glory–and besides most of them are Negroes anyway.
In a way, there’s a little William James in all of us. As mentioned above, we love the thrill of the roller coaster. But, it’s everything about our consumer society. We want our kicks and fixes all day and night. Near the end of the film, William James is back home at a supermart. Everything is quiet, normal, and dull. He sees shelves and shelves of sugary breakfast cereal. On the one hand, the image is one of dull and bland suburbia. But, it also indicates that we are all junkies in a way. What are most breakfast cereals made of? Sugar. From morning to night, from cradle to grave, many of us wake up to the kick of refined sugar, which some nutritionists consider a form of drug–even more damaging than heroin and marijuana. From the food we eat, movies we watch, games we play, sports and festivals we attend, porn men and women devour, twitter we twit, and myspace we disgrace, we are all addicted to non-stop thrills. Of course, it doesn’t cost us life or limb, though some would say it has snuffed out our souls. Given all the bogus and make-believe nature of all these inane thrills, William James wants to seek out the REAL kind. One might say that bullets are the real pills for real men. Losers pop pills, tough guys pop bullets.
Is there a racial element to HURT LOCKER to the extent that Iraq War pitted the West vs the Middle East? Also, one of the leads is a black guy, and the US military is known for its racial mix. Though we aren’t sure to what extent the tension between Sanborn and James is racial or personal, the tension is undeniable. This is just as well since reality is complex and not reducible as most message-laden Hollywood movies would have us believe. BLIND SIDE is for people who want the message, HURT LOCKER is for those who want complexity.
One racial element in the film revolves around US soldiers being in a foreign country. They might as well be on another planet among an alien race. There is very little understanding or meaningful contact between Americans and Iraqis. Most Iraqis are civilian standbys, but any one of them could be a potential terrorist. That uncertainty is the greatest terror that the Americans are faced with, especially since they are officially in Iraq to bring freedom and justice to the people. US soldiers in HL might are much like the fighting men in Robert Heinlein’s STARSHIP TROOPERS. They are mostly fresh-faced soldiers trained to fight and kill and not much else. In a way, it’s worse because STARSHIP TROOPERS presented a total war scenario where the ‘good guys’ could just blow up the other side as much as possible. In HURT LOCKER, we see Americans trying to save Iraqi neighborhood from bombs planted by Iraqis–to be more specific, the mostly Sunni insurgents among them. Talk about being caught between Iraq and a hard place.
When it comes to Iraqis, HL is like the typical Hollywood movie. Iraqis, like Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, Europeans, Somalis, and others before them, are just part of the background, with a few token characters thrown into to be more fairminded. Oliver Stone’s HEAVEN AND EARTH gave us something rare and precious–war as seen, felt, and experienced by the people of the Other country. While many US soldiers have died in foreign wars, many more civilians of those countries experienced far greater misery and perished in much greater numbers. For American movies to have ignored this fact most of this is understandable but somewhat distressing.
Most moviegoers demand hard action and things blowing up in a war movie, not a patient and empathetic understanding of lives of civilians of another country. Of course, it’s somewhat different if it’s about American civilians. HEAVEN AND EARTH tanked at the box office whereas GONE WITH THE WIND is the biggest hit of all time–adjusted for inflation–because Americans would rather see a Southern belle in a romanticized version of war than a Vietnamese peasant girl caught in an hell-hole. Also, BORN IN THE FOURTH JULY was a moderate success in the tradition of BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.
But to be fair to HL, it is not about the Iraq War per se. Its POV may be limited and narrowly America-centric like most war movies, but the film is true to its intentions and concerns. Indeed, given its thematic material, an attempt to be ‘fairminded’ toward Iraqi civilians would have been superfluous and strained. There is one effective scene which brings William James too-close-for-comfort with the inner world of Iraqi civilian society–in a kind of Kafkaesque-or-Mamet-like turn of events, James enters an almost surreal zone of paranoia to ferret out the killers of a young dvd-peddling Iraqi boy he’d casually befriended. (William James buys pirated dvds and defuses pirated bombs. The instant and all-pervasive availability of dvds even in a battle-worn wasteland suggests how far yet how close an American soldier is to any part of the world. Indeed, the internet has given us the Insta-War, where anyone anywhere can turn on the computer and see the war happening in real time through live cam. It’s more than C-Span, which is a professional news service. War has also been personalized through images captured through countless cellphones and digicams. Ironically, cellphones are also used to set off bombs. It’s almost like a surreal Bunuel-ian dreamscape where a cigar is more than cigar and a cellphone is more than a cellphone.)
The most disturbing scene between Americans and Iraqis is when the army psychologist decides to see some real action. Trained for psychiatry but not psyched for war, he’s too much of a ‘nice guy’ when trying to persuade suspicious Iraqis to move out of the area. Trained to analyze and understand behind closed doors than command and take charge in the open, his decency proves weak and fatal. It is to Bigelow’s credit that the character isn’t poked fun at and lampooned as a useless ‘geek’ as he could have been. He’s out of place, but he could be just about any American unprepared for battle.
The other racial element in the movie involves the black guy. This element isn’t overt and perhaps not really even intended, but given the racial realities in America, it’s something we cannot overlook. Sometimes, a movie tells us more about our racial issues and problems by what it represses than reveals. HURT LOCKER is correct that overt racial tensions in the military are essentially things of the past. It was long ago when blacks would have been called ‘niggers’ or when black soldiers would have said stuff like, “Man, why is I fightin’ for the white man??? The gooks didn’t call me no nigger!!” The official mainstream narrative is that the military is the most successfully integrated sector of American society. Even so, there are bound to be some racial tensions, especially since the military is a competitive field of toughness. The battle for king of the hill in toughness has long been between white males and black males. This is even more pronounced in sports where blacks reign supreme in the most prestigious sports. NBA and NFL have mostly black knights with white cheerleaders and groupies swooning over them; white males have been reduced to playing the role of squires on the team and serfs in the stands. If there is less racial tension in the military, it’s because the discipline and hierarchy don’t allow the kind of jive-ass show-boating you see among blacks in sports. Black soldiers have to behave or else. Also, unlike sports, higher rank in the military isn’t necessarily based on physical toughness or raw courage. Even a geeky officer can pull rank on a big tough lower-ranked soldier. In this sense, the military is a paradoxical institution. Nothing matters more than toughness and courage in battle, BUT toughness and courage alone are no guarantee for higher rank or prestige. The top brass and higher-ranked officers are generally graduates of military academies, the kind of people who experience less of the real battle.
There used to be a time when even the biggest athletes respected and bowed down to their coaches in a bygone era, but that is no longer the case in our utterly commercialized society. Today, in our ultra-individualistic and celebrity-crazed culture, even top coaches must cater to the vanity and narcissism of top athletes. Also, since blacks dominate the sports and naturally tend to be unruly and aggressive, they’ve set the new template of how athletes should act. Sportsmanship is a dinosaur ideal. Every top athletes tries to be like Muhammad Ali or Shaq O’Neal. There was a time when white liberals were excited by the rise of the UPPITY Negro–as a force of self-assertion, self-pride, and self-esteem among blacks–, but things have gotten so out of hand that liberals now dream of Tiger Woods as the nice Negro lad–before the scandal–, Oprah–the billionaire mammy–, and Obama–the half-Negro who speaks like a white guy. Liberals used to wax romantic about the White Negro; now they dream of the Black Whitey.
In HL, there is little overt talk of ‘nigger this’ or ‘honkey that’, not even the obligatory kind in movies like HAMBURGER HILL. Rather, the tensions are subdued and leave us wondering if the friction is racial or personal, or more racial than personal or vice versa. Sanborn is, on the surface, a solid soldier. He’s tough and seasoned. But there is an element of insecurity and testiness beneath his hard exterior. After William James ‘goes solo’ on a mission, Sanborn feels ‘dissed’ and speaks of his experience in the field of Intelligence. Sanborn carries what might be called the Affirmative Action Malady–irritation that whites might not take him seriously and regard him as just as a black guy favored by AA. Sanborn wants James to know that he’s not just some AA baby but a guy with real knowledge and experience, thus deserving of respect. This belies a certain insecurity. Sanborn goes so far as to call James a ‘redneck’ to drive home the point. In other words, Sanborn is nobody’s inferior or nobody’s boy. James takes all of this in stride, and we can only guess what he really thinks since he’s so Zen about most things.
But, there is more than insecurity in Sanborn. There is also a bit of resentment that he has to play second fiddle yet again. He was subordinate to Sgt. Matt Thompson who dies in the first scene but then has to serve under William James. Thompson was less of a cowboy and more of a team-player, which made Sanborn feel appreciated. James, on the other hand, walks into danger like he’s Achilles the Greek Hero. Sanborn naturally feels ‘dissed’. We can only guess as to his real feelings, and he may not know his true feelings either. Does he feel ignored for racial reasons? Or is he angry at James’s reckless game-playing? Or both?
Sanborn, as a black guy, may also feel that HE should be the leader. There is a biological basis to this. Blacks, due to biochemistry, tends to be more assertive, aggressive, and commanding. Blacks generally weigh people’s worth according to physical prowess and charisma, and this means most black guys cannot respect ‘white boys’ as figures of authority. Blacks don’t respect nobody whose ass they can whup.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Sanborn is a typical black guy. It may well be that lots of black males are not typically black and just wanna lead peaceful normal lives–especially if they’re matured in yrs. But, there could be an element of racial resentment in Sanborn when his anger boils over with James. After the second mission when Sanborn is ‘dissed’ again, he strikes James in the face. James takes it in stride–like a big bear that got scratched by a cougar–, and that seems to be that. Sanborn perhaps thought he had to teach the ‘white boy’ a lesson not to mess with a badass ‘nigga’.
And we may even surmise that William James’s reckless courage has a racial tone as well. Since whites cannot top blacks in strength and power, the only area left is daring and courage. It’s like “you may have a bigger dick, but I got bigger balls.” Indeed, the military–especially the more exclusive special forces–has become a kind of ersatz sports team for a lot of white guys who can’t make it into college/professional sports dominated by blacks. Gun is the great equalizer. This is why so many angry, frustrated, and resentful white males–who are sick of blacks winning in sports and taking more and more blonde blue-eyed babes as their sexual prize–load up on guns and more guns. Facebook is filled with seething white males who desperately try to reclaim and demonstrate their manhood by posting photos of themselves holding pistols or uploading videos of them blasting away with semi-automatic rifles. They put on a “I’m an angry white warrior” facial expression which looks rather silly on a social networking site known more for quizzes, games, and virtual gifts. You bet they are fantasizing about shooting a whole bunch of left-wing Jews and black males–and possibly ‘race traitor’ white females who are into ‘jungle fever’.
Anyway, HL has surprises. William James’s approach to people is very much like his approach to bombs. He takes his time and works at his own pace. After Sanborn attacks him, he doesn’t show anger or blow up at Sanborn’s face. He doesn’t apologize either. You’d think the score is Sanborn 1 James 0. But there is more to James than meets the eye. It’s not that he’s someone who holds grudges forever; rather, he’s someone who has to see things through. So after an evening of carousing, he confronts Sanborn in a game of who-can-punch-whose-gut-hardest?
Sanborn surely has the natural edge since black bones and muscle are harder, but James is slightly the bigger guy and has much greater mental will. Sanborn, as tough as he is, cringes in pain and screams like a child–or even a little girl–when James gains control by sitting atop him. Though the punch-the-gut match is more or less even on the physical level, James wins the mental aspect of it. So, their rivalry score stands throughout the movie at James 2 Sanborn 1.
Sanborn is interesting as he’s both a fully realized individual AND a shopworn black stereotype we’ve seen in many movies. How can this be? We’ll have to credit the skillful writing and directing of Boal and Bigelow. Sanborn is, to an extent, what we might call a reverse-stereotype. In our ‘progressive’ society which disdains racial stereotypes even as it promotes them–blacks as studly athletes, Muslims as swarthy terrorists, Jews as wits, funny-accented Asian-Indian convenience store owners, Chinese computer geeks and William Hung, Italian mobsters, Mexicans-who-look-and-sound-like-Guillermo-on-the-Jimmy-Kimmel-Show, Teutonic Germanic types–, we are sometimes treated to the anti- or counter-stereotype as if we are all about ‘judging people by the content of their character’. So, we see the dumb mild-mannered Jew–like Ross on the TV show FRIENDS–, a loud and brash Asian girl, a very normal father-knows-best-like gay boy, or a self-controlled and reliable black guy.
In reality, we generally associate blackness with jive-assery, and indeed GUNNER PALACE did a wonderful job of showing the difference in attitudes among rapping & trash-talking black soldiers and white soldiers who were either more laid back or more conscientious(especially among the higher ranks). The way some of the brothas were rappin’ in GUNNER PALACE, you’d think Iraq War was the biggest baddest gang warfare they ever done seen.
To this extent, Sanborn could be said to be an anti-stereotype, which too is a form of stereotype. An anti-stereotype doesn’t necessarily favor reality over caricature but merely replaces one caricature(negative) with another(positive). But Sanborn is more because he’s so well realized and brought to life. He has credibility as a realistic character.
But as an anti-stereotype, he recalls the black guy in DAWN OF THE DEAD, Angela Bassett in STRANGE DAYS, Danny Glover in LETHAL WEAPON, the Boat Chief in APOCALYPSE NOW, and many others. He may even remind us of Woody Strode character in MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. If so, the anti-stereotype of the solid, stable, and straight-arrow black guy may partly be a ‘progressive’ reworking of the old stereotype of the loyal Negro.
In DAWN, the short white guy was the adventurer and gambler while the black guy was cautious and methodical. We have a similar dynamic in HL. More interestingly, the racial dynamic of STRANGE DAYS–also directed by Bigelow from a rotten script by James Cameron–was similar to one in HL. In both SD and HL, it is a white guy who has a mad obsession while a black character tries to restrain him and bring him back down to Earth. If SD is really a sleazy and stupid movie and the Bassett character was too-good-and-badass-to-be-true, this can’t be said for HL. To be sure, SD is sci-fi apocalyptic fantasy whereas HL is a realistic war drama, but SD would have been better without the Cameronian excesses and simple-mindedness.
I don’t know what the ‘white nationalist’ crowd would make of a movie like HURT LOCKER. My guess they would have loved it if it didn’t have the ‘positive’ black male character. Of course, there is a wide range of ‘white nationalism’, from those who believe that the West should be white-majority nations–sites like Vdare.com–to those still admire Adolf Hitler and deny the Holocaust–Stormfront and other such moronic sites. There is also defensive white nationalism–in response to the rise of the Obama regime, tide of illegal immigration, and affirmative action–as opposed to aggressive white nationalism–the kind of idiots who think everything would have been great if Japan and Germany won WWII.
Whatever the case, the presence of the black guy will be most troublesome to white nationalists. Black service in the military is welcome to many white conservatives but anathema to white nationalists–who aren’t necessarily conservative–Christian, capitalist, and/or individualist.
Many white conservatives hope that black military service will boost patriotism in the black community. Gee, maybe patriotic blacks will even join the GOP!!! White conservatives also see the military as the most effective institution that can train, discipline, and humanize unruly black males into constructive members of society. For a long time, Colin Powell was the wet-dream among white conservatives. Indeed, how nice if the military could turn more blacks into Colin Powells–or so that was the hope until Powell showed his real black nationalist face and endorsed his brotha Obama. If Saul Alinsky provided Obama with his rule book, it seems Powell’s career was ordained along the lines of the movie THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJGD5NAQwc8&feature=PlayList&p=499F675FC139EC95&index=0
White nationalists, unlike mainstream white conservatives, regard blacks as the MAIN enemy. Though white nationalists cooked up high-sounding anti-war rhetoric for opposing the American Empire and foreign wars, their main reason for opposing foreign wars is that many of them want to prepare for the REAL WAR in America–the race war between whites and the blacks, with browns caught somewhere in the middle. White nationalists wonder why we are wasting our resources and men against Iraqis and possibly Iranians who can’t possibly do us any harm when it is the blacks who are beating up ‘white boys’, taking white women–by rape or seduction–, and driving white folks out of high-crime integrated neighborhoods. Why are we over in Iraq when we are being invaded along the Southwest border by Illegal Mexicans and over-productive ‘poon cannons’ of anchor-baby muchachas? Why are we trying to save the world when the (Third)world is flooding into the US and European countries?
To white nationalists, the priorities of the American government–Democratic or Republican–make absolutely no sense. Worse, in fighting all these foreign wars, the US military needs as many recruits as it can get. Many of them are black and even possibly illegal Mexicans. Whites having to fight alongside blacks and illegal Mexicans in places like Iraq and Afghanistan compels all of them to be a band of brothers. They must rely on each other to fight, kill, and survive–as blacks and whites did in Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, blacks asked, “why we be fightin’ the gooks when they aint called us no ‘nigger’?” but whites could have just as well asked, “why are we fighting the gooks when they never raped our women and pussified white men into a bunch of faggoty-maggoty-assed dorks?”
The main threat to black Americans have always been white Americans, and vice versa. Even during the peak of the Cold War, there was far less chance of Soviets nuking the US than white women getting raped by blacks, white businesses getting burnt to the ground by blacks, white males getting beaten up by blacks, white people being robbed and murdered in their homes by blacks, and so on. Soviet were a distant enemy that could be held at bay. Blacks were within the walls of America and wreaking havoc on white society through crime and destroying white male pride and confidence by whupping the ‘white boy’ in the streets, in the ring, and on the sporting fields.
For white nationalists, there can be no easy truce with blacks. BLIND SIDE is for naive white conservatives as far as white nationalists are concerned. If mainstream conservatism is still informed by a good-willed and all-embracing Christianity–conservative churches are at the forefront of adopting and bringing lots of African and Haitian babies to America–, white nationalism long ago gave up hope of racial harmony. Not all or even most white nationalists call for a Race War, but many have a very bleak view of the future. They think whites must stick together just as other races are vying for their own slice of tribal power.
The good-willed nature of white conservatives is partly sincere, partly disingenuous. As Christians who believe in America-as-the-city-on-a-hill, they really seem to want to do good. But their excessive show of compassion to blacks and Jews is a means to overcome the sins of the Right associated to slavery and the Holocaust. Though they oppose liberal statism, they are eager to show that they CARE MORE for blacks than even liberals do. In BLIND SIDE, a conservative white family takes a huge-ass Negro kid into their own living room. It’s not just a case of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Staying to Fill Up His Fat Black Ass(and become a famous athlete and have sex with lots of white women). Of course, what we are shown is a jolly looking de-sexualized Fat Albert type when in fact your average big black guy brought into a white house will soon be ogling and even fondling the missus and the daughter–who may actually like it, as young kids’ main passion today is jungle-feverish rap music and hip-hop.
The main reason for black problem isn’t slavery but biology. No amount of white conservative good-will or redemption can fix this. As for the guilt trip over the Holocaust and the mindless GOP support of Israel, why should white Americans feel guilt over what Germans did? Do white Americans feel guilt for what Japanese did in China? One could say white Americans didn’t try to enter the war and save Jews until the attack on Pearl Harbor, but did Jews try to save Ukrainians from Stalin or the Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge?
I suppose one could argue that White Americans and Nazi Germans were of a similar cultural lineage with deep roots in antisemitism, but one could argue that American Jews and Soviet Jews also shared a long and deep radical, subversive, and ideological lineage. If white American gentiles must feel guilt for the Holocaust, then American Jew should feel guilt for the evils of communism. Of course, the real problem is Jews are rich and smart, bought off nearly all the major media outlets and control most of the academia. They control the brain centers, so even most white conservatives think in terms and ideas framed by the Jews–leftists, liberals, and neocons.
Anyway, the thing is the military necessarily draws the various races closer. Whites, blacks, and browns must all fight together, especially in wars cooked up by liberal Zionists and Jewish neoconservatives. White nationalists feel that their main enemies are blacks and liberal/leftist Jews. If whites should fight any people, it’s the blacks. If whites should bring down any power, it is the JEPE–Jewish Power Elite.
White nationalists respect the military and what it stands for, but they see it as hopelessly compromised and perverted by racial diversity and by its being subordinate to civilian government which is no longer that of the white majority but of the Jewish liberal power elite which is using blacks and illegal aliens from Mexico to undermine and destroy white power and well-being. Worse, more and more white females in the military are going with black officers and soldiers, further pussifying white males who can only watch with resentment and envy. Whites males feel doubly emasculated–by PC and by the stronger blacks. If a white guy in the military complained about interracist or interracial relationships, he’ll either be court-martialed and dishonorably discharged and/or get beaten up by the black guy to the merriment of his white ‘race traitor’ girlfriend.
So, from this angle, HURT LOCKER may seem like just another Hollywood Neocon liberal Zionist interracist fantasy to white nationalist types.
But not all or even most white nationalists regard art and culture purely in propagandistic or ideological terms. Not everyone is as myopic as Richard Hoste for whom racial purism is just about the only lens through which to judge and understand society. Only a myopically jaded person like Hoste would underhandedly praise North Korea because of its racial purism. Never mind it is one of the most psychotic and miserable places on Earth. Hey, so what? They have a racial policy to give Nazi policies a run for the money.
Hoste’s view of HURT LOCKER is no less myopic. Though we should note and discuss the ‘subversive’ elements in HL in relation to white nationalist interests, our understanding and appreciation of art and culture should go beyond the Nazi-esque obsession with race. Hoste is so ideologically one-dimensional that he can praise a psycho-state like North Korea because it’s racially homogeneous–never mind North Korea is gives racial homogeneity a bad name–while dismissing an excellent and multi-faceted movie like HURT LOCKER because it has, by golly, a ‘positive’ black guy. This is perhaps why the Left and Jews are far ahead on the field in the appreciation and creation of arts and culture. Even as the Left and Jews may detest the politics or views of a Richard Wagner or Louis-Ferdinand Celine, they know great art when the see, hear, or read one. Not that HL is some super masterpiece, but we should be able to be able to appreciate it something other than a simple PC propaganda on racial progress.
Bigelow isn’t and will never be a great master. At best, she is a superior filmmaker with a fair amount of ambition which, thankfully, isn’t as strained as that of her ex-hubby James Cameron. The godawful STRANGE DAYS–which is more interesting to think about than to watch–was very ambitious but it had Cameron’s fingerprints all over it. Bigelow at her best seems to know her limitations. Even so, she seems unable to escape the habit of artiness in most of her pictures. If I like K-19: WIDOWMAKER the most, it’s because it’s the most conventional. When Bigelow goes for personal style, she tends to falter, and HURT LOCKER is no exception. My biggest gripe against the film is the artiness around the edges. The artiness isn’t enough to kill the movie but it can be irritating. Some people have complained about the hand-held camera style, but that’s not the main problem. Rather it is arty and self-conscious use of that style. What we end up is a kind of unnatural naturalism. It would have been less troublesome if the film had been shot by an amateur documentarian in a slapdash manner. Whether one likes the hand-held camera style or not, such would have been straightforward and honest–and even compelling–, like so many uploaded footage of war we’ve seen all over the internet. Unfortunately, what we get in HL is a very calculated and self-conscious kind of naturalism. It’s kinda like prole hands with fancy finger nail polish.
Worse, some of the jerky camera movement isn’t very purposeful but arbitrarily arty, possibly the worst kind of artiness. Instead of calling attention to the raw ‘reality’, it calls attention to itself. Now, consider what Steven Spielberg was able to achieve in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. SPR has a rather syrupy and ridiculous plot, the writing isn’t all that good, and the acting is ho-hum, but it is a visual action masterpiece, especially in the opening scene. Even the slightest camera movement bounces off a certain stimuli, danger, fear, anxiety, violence, etc. The camera shakes with the tremors of war. Come to think of it, it’s as though the camera is desperately seeking order and balance in a world being torn asunder. Human senses normally seek order and balance, and so the tumultuous visuals seem natural than forced in SPR. It’s as if the camera is being shaken against its will than for the hell of it. It’s the POV of chaos seeking order than vice versa. In HURT LOCKER, there are many scenes where the camera needlessly lurches about even when not much is happening. Why? Still, it’s not a fatal flaw, and we kinda get used to it like we get used to mosquitos at a picnic.
Besides, when Bigelow gets it right, she gets it very right. The best scene in the movie is when our guys come upon British mercenaries dressed up as Arabs. Soon, a firefight breaks out with Iraqi insurgents hidden in a far-off bunker, and Bigelow lets the scene languish under the merciless sun. This is the most surreal scene in the film, almost like a cross between Bunuel and Sergio Leone. It is a duel to the death that feels both desperate and eternal. The insurgents are hidden in a bunker while out guys are under the hammering rays of the sun. They grow more dehydrated by the minute. They don’t even know if they’ve killed all the insurgents or not. Pinned down, all they can do is wait and wait, as they slip in and out of hallucinatory slumber.
There’s more to this scene than struggle for survival. It could also be a matter of pride, and pride too is a drug, an addiction. Like a video game player who has to make it to the next level, Sanborn may feel a prideful need to finish off all the enemy.
This scene is also full of surprises. Ralph Fiennes–star of STRANGE DAYS–makes an appearance as a dashing and courageous–if also rather uncouth–war adventurer; he’s the kind of guy whom bullets usually evade or bump off of in movies. He gets shot stone cold dead. It is then Sanborn takes over the rifle, and we expect a dramatic shootout that will end the scene in a bang. But, the scene stretches on and on until we don’t know what to expect anymore and finally ends with a whimper than a bang. It may be the best thing Bigelow ever did, something even Spielberg cannot touch.
All said and done, a fine film.