Alphabetical Movie – The Hurt Locker
Francois Truffaut famously said it is impossible to make an anti-war film.
His meaning, I think, was to suggest that any film about war – no matter the perspective of the filmmaker – ends up glorifying war to some degree. I see what he meant although I don’t agree with him. One needs only watch Paths of Glory to see a film about war that doesn’t glorify it in the slightest.
The Hurt Locker is not made to be an anti-war film but that does not mean it is pro-war. It is a film about soldiers with an extremely dangerous job and how they deal with that job. It reduces triumphs and defeats to moments of minimal consequence in the day-to-day life of a soldier in a war zone.
Films that could be fairly argued to be pro-war are about tactical victories. The Dirty Dozen is about a single mission and the victory of that mission. The Hurt Locker could have been about any single mission but instead, it is about the fact that missions don’t end. Imagine if most of the Dirty Dozen had survived and returned to base. There would have been another mission. And another.
Individual soldiers may be heroes but soldiering is a job. A very dangerous job. It is not a mission. It is not a series of heroic encounters. Most of it is just trying to get through the day without getting yourself killed or wounded.
There doesn’t seem to be any glory in what theses soldiers are doing. There are moments of relief and euphoria, perhaps, but no glory. Glory is for others. The men doing their job don’t seek it. They have it assigned to them because there are those who need heroes.
I think there are war films that are anti-war, though. I’ve already mentioned Paths of Glory as the perfect example of a film that is both about war and completely against it.
Yet, how much of our perceptions of the message in a war film are colored by our own biases? I’m not particularly fond of war and because of that, I see the negative impacts of war in just about every film and feel as if they are all anti-war. For someone who feels differently, they may see only those moments that glorify battle and would see most war films as pro-war.
You also have to consider the intent of the filmmaker. Aside from the days of World War II, not a lot of filmmakers consciously make their films pro or anti-war. They are telling a story that happens to take place during a war.
Take Saving Private Ryan. Is it pro-war? Is it anti-war? Seems to me that it resides somewhere in the middle. Spielberg clearly portrays his soldiers as heroic (for the most part) but the Normandy invasion is not exactly a recruitment film.
When depicting war on-screen, the more realistic you make it, the worse it seems. Paradoxically, the attempt to portray realism in war makes it look as if you are glorifying it because you are trying so hard to get it right.
I think Truffaut was right – for himself. He could not watch a war film without perceiving it as pro-war.
Whatever his perception, I think the truth of the matter is much murkier for the rest of us.