JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

A salute to brave soldiers in a nerve-racking theatre of war

Date

Miranda Devine

<i>Illustration</i>: Edd Aragon.

Illustration: Edd Aragon.

The director of The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, delivered the best moments of one of the best Academy Awards this week with her double Oscar win. There is the moment when she peeks out of the corner of her eye at ex-husband James ''Avatar'' Cameron, just before he leans forward to pat her on the back for beating him as best director. What a mischievously inspired seating arrangement. And when The Hurt Locker beat Cameron's 3D preachy green blockbuster Avatar for best picture, his smile was looking decidedly cracked.

The pair remain "very good friends" after the bust-up of their brief marriage, according to Bigelow, 58, and their Oscar behaviour was perfectly civil, although their movies could not be more dissimilar.

Bigelow's decorum extended to her acceptance speeches for her $US11 million ($12 million) independent movie about a US elite bomb disposal squad in Baghdad in 2004, at the height of the Iraq war's violence.

When she walked on stage to receive the Oscar for best director, she said: "I'd just like to dedicate this to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world. And may they come home safe."

A few minutes later, she dedicated her second Oscar, for best picture, "to men and women all over the world who, sorry to reiterate, but who wear a uniform, even not just the military - HazMat, emergency, firemen. They're there for us and we're there for them."

It is an excellent sentiment, which transcends the political fights which have engulfed the war in Iraq since the decision by the US and allies such as Australia to invade in 2003.

While some critics have seen the movie as yet more anti-war Hollywood propaganda and soldiers have blasted it as inaccurate, it is really just a snapshot of the nerve-racking reality of warfare in Iraq in 2004 when violence escalated before the successful troop surge of 2007.

It is about the understated nobility of generation Y soldiers who shoulder the greatest burdens, who willingly risk their lives on foreign battlefields because they believe they are doing good.

And the proof their pain and sacrifice has done good came the same day The Hurt Locker was honoured at the Academy Awards - on Sunday, when Iraq held its second free general parliamentary elections, hailed universally as a great success with a 62 per cent turnout.

It will take weeks before the final results are known, but again we have seen the courage of the Iraqi people in defying insurgent bombs to vote.

One New York Times piece compares the way the streets of Baghdad appeared on Sunday to how they were in the first election five years ago. Today, there are traffic lights and solar panels on the lamp posts and Iraqis reach to put on their seatbelts as they approach police checkpoints, as law and order is slowly restored.

The Hurt Locker is a Vietnam-era soldier's phrase, taken at its least literal to mean something like "a private place of pain". It is about men, as perhaps only a woman could explain. You never really understand why the main character, the bomb disposal whiz Staff Sergeant William James (played by Jeremy Renner) is so reckless. He throws off his bomb suit at one point to get comfortable while defusing a bomb.

Bigelow lets you recognise the uniquely male "call of duty" instinct in James but doesn't try to provide a glib explanation. He just is what he is. He is very good at defusing bombs, the army needs him so that's what he does. She shows warfare reduced to improvised explosive devices and other homemade bombs which lie everywhere in wait for coalition soldiers, randomly blowing off legs and arms or killing them as they sit in Humvees beside mates who survive unscathed.

Bigelow hates war. Before the Oscars she said: "I'm a child of the '60s, and I see war as hell, and a real tragedy, and completely dehumanising. You know, those are some of the great themes of our time, and we made a real effort to portray the brutality and the futility of this conflict."

But she does not use her film to preach, like Cameron did with Avatar.

The Hurt Locker owes much of its power to its restraint and reticence, and its respectful depiction

of the young men who are its understated stars.

Bigelow has resisted the temptation to use the soldiers to push the cliched Hollywood anti-war barrow which has been the kiss of death to previous Iraq war movies.

Her intensely narrow focus makes us think more about the soldiers doing the fighting than any amount of heavy-handed cinematic moralising.

Of course she has been criticised for refusing to politicise the war and thus disrespect the soldiers who are fighting in it. One female critic

even implied Bigelow was a tool of the right-wing "Tea Party movement" in the US because of her "nuance-free" approach.

The shadow Bigelow leaves in the background of The Hurt Locker is what happens to the soldiers when they return. It is an inevitability of war the young men who volunteer to fight come home quite changed. But how our soldiers react when they return will depend on whether the country they fought for believes their sacrifice was worthwhile.

Major-General Jim Molan is one of our most decorated soldiers, and has served with distinction in Iraq, having been Chief of Operations under US General George Casey during the peak of fighting in 2004-05, when The Hurt Locker was set.

And yet, when he goes to speak at universities he finds protesters - mainly baby boomers - calling him a war criminal, daubing themselves with red paint and falling on the ground pretending to be dead.

You would have hoped we were beyond such destructive Vietnam era foolishness.

devinemiranda@hotmail.com

47 comments

  • One senses that the only thing our respected reviewer wants to say here is "thank heavens that preachy green blockbuster" didn't win. Heaven forbid someone should criticize soldiers, generals and war. Such an attitude to anti-war protest merely irritates lefties early in the morning, which perhaps is the only point of the piece.

    Commenter
    sleepygreeny
    Location
    Annandale
    Date and time
    March 11, 2010, 6:05AM
    • How about the media think about their stance on what they provide to the public. 500 Women and Children were butchered to death in Dogo Nahawa, Nigeria over the weekend, yet, most newspapers had a couple of columns on it on Monday and then it has disappeared completely from any Australian news sources (World Wide agencies like Reauters and Bloomberg still report on the aftermath). Not only should we think about our stance on War, but also our stance on what we choose to ignore. War and conflict is apart of a world we live in today, but a reason why it continues to occur is because we ignore it and let it happen....

      Who cares about the Grammy's, do you think the people of Africa do? the suffering people of Iraq? no, we as a Western Society think its OK to blanket the world more important issues... just look at todays news on SMH... Who cares about Michael Clarke and his not so good looking fiance, a woman robbed for a whole $6.50... seriously, you pay people for this? Joke...

      Commenter
      DG
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 11, 2010, 6:10AM
      • First, war is a terrible thing and the decision to go to war must be made based on the most severe and dire threat (mind you, a fabricated one doesn't count)
        And second, films about war and actors protraying soldiers, no matter how poignantly, are not representative of the pain and hurt individual soldiers have throughout their lives as a result of going to war- especially when they come back and realise that many of them went to fight for a cause that some politician thought was a good idea at the time while a large proportion of the populace believed it was a lie and a sham and resulted in destruction and death for many innocent people.
        So, the fact that Bigelow made her acceptance speech a prayer for the wellbeing and safe return of those who serve is a good thing. So should we all- pray that is...
        And perhaps next time, our politicians might remember that you never go to war except on the most urgent and dire need... and I'd willingly pray for that too.
        It'd save a lot of soldiers a lot of pain and suffering in their lives.

        Commenter
        David
        Location
        Leongatha
        Date and time
        March 11, 2010, 6:13AM
        • A real soldier would have said to the Howard Bush Blair war machine "We are not going to kill innocent people for no reason". You want to make them heroes they are not, they are criminals. Just because some corrupt government orders you to kill doesn't mean you are excused of the guilt of the shed blood. The War on Truth is not free pass to murder.

          Commenter
          Greg
          Location
          NSW
          Date and time
          March 11, 2010, 6:17AM
          • "You would have hoped we were beyond such destructive Vietnam era foolishness."

            That sentence is equally applicable to the neo-cons, who dragged us into an unnecessary war in Iraq, bleeding dry the resources needed to finish the job in Afghanistan. Their inability to learn the lessons from Vietnam have left 2 countries in chaos, with hundreds of thousands dead.

            Commenter
            bikegeek
            Location
            terrigal
            Date and time
            March 11, 2010, 7:02AM
            • Miranda is right to do what Ms Bigalow tries to refuse to do - bring her politics into this human story. Soldiers would not be in a world of hurt in the first place if not for politics and there is little point feeling the pain in a cinema, but then failing to act thoughtfully about war as a citizen in a democracy.
              "...how our soldiers react when they return will depend on whether the country they fought for believes their sacrifice was worthwhile."
              Possibly. But what if most of the people genuinely believe that the Iraq adventure was NOT worthwhile? Are we supposed to lie down and pretend that we thought it was all worthwhile so that our service personnel feel better? They deserve better than that.
              They should never have been put in harm's way in the first place and if films like this invite people to question the next time a PM gets all gung ho and wants to send them off again, maybe we have helped those in serving in uniform the best way we can.

              Commenter
              gwl
              Location
              Sunshine Coast - QLD
              Date and time
              March 11, 2010, 7:37AM
              • "It is about the understated nobility of generation Y soldiers who shoulder the greatest burdens, who willingly risk their lives on foreign battlefields because they believe they are doing good."
                ... Not only do you fail to recognise the huge death toll among the local population, you celebrate your death cult. It's bordering on a mania.

                Commenter
                Patrickb
                Location
                Perth
                Date and time
                March 11, 2010, 8:31AM
                • So this commentator is happy to follow the neo con line presenting the recent Iraq election as a success when, along with over 50 people who were killed "only a few candidates were assassinated". Woe be the day when elections in general are judged this way.

                  Commenter
                  beregofski
                  Location
                  Mullumbimby, NSW
                  Date and time
                  March 11, 2010, 8:46AM
                  • "it is really just a snapshot of the nerve-racking reality of warfare in Iraq in 2004 when violence escalated before the successful troop surge of 2007."

                    How do you know Miranda? Have you been there?

                    The Hurt Locker is an over-hyped snorfest. It wasn't edge-of-your-seat, it was boring.

                    Commenter
                    Djinn
                    Location
                    Sydney
                    Date and time
                    March 11, 2010, 8:57AM
                    • A Miranda "There is no such thing as Too Far Right" Devine article that doesn't criticise any/all non Liberal Parties??

                      What is the world coming to?

                      Commenter
                      Adam
                      Location
                      Sydney
                      Date and time
                      March 11, 2010, 9:01AM

                      More comments

                      Comments are now closed
                      Featured advertisers