Friday, March 19, 2010

The Visuals of The Hurt Locker

Disclaimer: This review has some spoilers. You should probably watch the movie before reading this.

The first time I saw The Hurt Locker I paid more attention to my brand new surround sound than I did the movie itself. It wasn't a complete waste of two hours; the film's Academy Awards for sound design and sound editing are well deserved. The Hurt Locker has so much more worth seeing, however. After watching the film for a second time with open eyes, I felt compelled to write a review focusing on its outstanding visuals.

The first visual symbol that I remember seeing (and believe me, there are many that I have forgotten about or missed) was the flies on the eyes of the sniper and spotter of both sides of the shootout towards the middle of the movie. The fly doesn't discriminate. There are two human beings, neither of whom's life is more important that the others.

In that same scene, we see an empty shell-casing falling unnaturally to the ground contrasted with a naturally occurring sand cyclone. We are drawn to the sight of the swirling desert cyclone. We are equally attracted to the visual of the manmade shell falling lifelessly to the ground. The cyclone is natural; the shell is not. War is not natural.

Another striking visual was of the protagonist Staff Sergeant William James sitting alone in his room late at night putting on his bomb suit helmet. He is physically and emotionally shut-off from everything–not only in the world back home, but everyone and everything around him at war.

The tanker explosion scene that takes place at night reminded me of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket as the soldiers walked through a fire-drenched hellscape. Shortly after that, when Specialist Eldridge gets shot in the leg by SS James, I was reminded of the "Humpty Dumpty" nursery rhyme. The physical injury of his femur being shattered in 9 places mirrors the mental break from the post traumatic stress disorder that is sure to follow him. And all the king's horses and all the king's men...

Through a combination of handheld camerawork and Academy Award winning editing, The Hurt Locker does an excellent job of putting us in the middle of war. As the three soldiers clear a building room-by-room, we sit at the edge of our seats and peek around corners with them. We feel as alienated as Staff Sergeant James does as he walks through the corporate-painted supermarket to the sound of satirical elevator music. How trivial our lives seem when the toughest choice we face is what brand of cereal to buy.

It is SS James's alienation that leads the film to its ending that, foreshadowed by the opening Chris Hedges quote, ends the only way it can.

These few short paragraphs give only a glimpse into what a great film The Hurt Locker really is. The nail-biting opening scene gives us a good idea of how well shot, designed, and edited Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece is from beginning to end. To top it all off, we're left with three equally intriguing character studies by the time the credits roll. I'm quite interested in seeing how this one plays ten years down the road.


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