'/> Uncommon Hours: Responding to 'The Hurt Locker': Is the Left losing its sense of irony?
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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Responding to 'The Hurt Locker': Is the Left losing its sense of irony?

Is the Left losing its sense of irony?
Bob Sommer
Uncommon Hours

A few responses to the movie The Hurt Locker suggest that may be the case:

Here’s John Pilger in the New Statesman (a review later endorsed in the way of the Web by its inclusion at Socialistworker.org):

“This film offers a vicarious thrill through yet another standard-issue psychopath, high on violence in somebody else's country where the deaths of a million people are consigned to cinematic oblivion.”

Robert Scheer calls the movie “an endorsement of the politically chauvinistic view that the world is a stage upon which Americans get to deal with their demons, no matter the consequence for others.”

Several comments following his essay reinforce that judgment, like these two:

“Hollywood is still addicted to the glorification of war and the sublimation of the vulgar truth about war.”

“Not only is the movie outright pro military propaganda, but the movie itself is shit. I fast forwarded through 70% of the film, because i [sic] found it so offensive and blatantly supportive of US imperialism. I would not at all be surprised if major funding came from the military.”

The latter is especially disturbing. The commenter could be a Tea Partier at a townhall meeting on healthcare. He didn’t bother to watch the film but pronounces on it, and all he can offer are a vulgarity and ungrounded paranoia. It may be worth noting here that some right-wingers believe Stephen Colbert is literally a conservative.

I’ve written elsewhere about The Hurt Locker, so I won’t get into a long commentary here, except to say that I found it a profoundly anti-war movie.

Take one common criticism – that the movie doesn’t show the Iraqi point of view, that Iraqis are depicted one-dimensionally. It’s the nature of irony that we should see the people of Iraq this way because the story is told primarily through the eyes of soldiers. That is, it would be unfaithful to the narrative viewpoint if these characters saw Iraqis differently. But most importantly – and this is where the above writers miss the point – the film creates the conditions for us (the viewers) to recognize that distinction, and to recognize that this a consequence of war, of the ways it alters reality, justifies the unjustifiable, abandons morality for the surreal dimensions of amorality, in essence, dislocates everyone in ways that deprive them of reason, of compassion, indeed, of their very humanity.

Turning men (infantry soldiers are still exclusively men) into soldiers, sending them where they don’t belong to do things that violate their own moral codes, inducing a constant state of fear by the conditions of war, which, as the movie aptly suggests, are the result of criminally bad policy decisions, result in the consequences we watch played out in this film.

It would be difficult for any critic of this movie to suggest that the scene in which Sgt. James invades the (note!) very middle-class home of an Iraqi professor and his wife is anything other than a violation of that family. Would the critics above have us believe that the wife’s untranslated dialogue, clearly expressing her rage at this invasion, is somehow stereotyped because we don’t understand it? Note how successfully the scene establishes that us and them mentality and breaks it down through the professor's character, who, we should also note, spoke several languages. He addressed James calmly, reasonably. He welcomed him as a visitor. How many languages could James have responded in?

James is a drug addict. His drug is war. The Chris Hedges quote at the movie’s outset makes that perspective clear, but even without it, the story did its job. Its faithfulness in portraying the character of Will James is anything but an endorsement of American exceptionalism and war – rather, it’s an indictment.

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