by Graeme Wood
People tend to dislike movies about events they experienced, for the same reasons they tend to dislike movies based on books they've read. If the movie's accurate, it bores them, because it's just an abbreviated version of a more vivid past. And if it's inaccurate, well, it's inaccurate.
My old colleague Brian Mockenhaupt faults Hurt Locker for the latter reason, and he is right: there is much that feels bogus. The movie's first sour note is its epigraph -- "War is a drug" -- from Chris Hedges, whose book taught me more about the psychological trauma of Chris Hedges than about the psychological trauma of war. (Hedges, a former NYT correspondent, describes brutally beating a KLM agent in Costa Rica, an act of psychopathy other war reporters somehow resist.) The drug in question in the film appears to be some kind of horrible speed-plus-angel-dust twofer, which simultaneously revs up reality, robs you of judgment, and makes you strong. I have never popped open the trunk of a car to reveal a huge bomb meant for me, so I can't promise that bomb-disposal technicians don't experience these effects. But the needless risks and hijinks in Hurt Locker seem laughably far-fetched.
I spent two years in Iraq, never as a soldier and usually away from fighting. Most of the bomb-disposal work I saw was controlled detonation, from a great distance. It looks like this:
The aspect of Hurt Locker I found truest was the return home from Iraq to a world whose colors felt dulled, and whose blessedly banal choices -- Window or aisle? With or without ice? -- felt meaningless. (Which, of course, they were.) Ironically, the effect of the homecoming scenes in Hurt Locker reminded me not only of my returns from Iraq, but also of the withdrawal symptoms experienced by Avatar viewers. It's the feeling of entering a world less vivid and dramatic than the one you've left. That these movies both manage to induce such highs and lows suggests they both deserve their Oscar nominations, accurate or not.