“The Hurt Locker”, written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Nominated and won for Best Picture, this award winning film captured the attention of many filmmakers and audiences for boldly showing the harsh reality of war and how a soldier deals with the horrors of war. “War is a drug”, a quote that this movie successfully reflects in its story and theme. The soldier associates war as some kind of drug that one must take to for keep going in life. This film emphasizes this through James, main protagonist of the story, who is a constant danger to himself and to others around him. The film is about an American army bomb disposal unit in wartime Iraq tasked with finding and disarming bombs in order to protect the local populace. The Hurt Locker also focuses on their struggles and victories in Iraq and portrays the life of the military. Not only does the Hurt Locker have a good story, but this film also implements many film techniques such as elements of mise en scene, superb cinematography, and editing. I will talk about how “The Hurt Locker” deserves to be an Academy Award winner referencing these elements of film.
The reason why this film is considered to be a great film is because of its emphasis on film technique. One of the elements portrayed in this film would be the incorporation of Mise en Scene. There are many examples of Mise- En -Scene used to create a sense of realism in the film. One I would describe the visual style would be gritty. Everything from the setting to the costumes were authentic enough that it added to the realism of film. In the beginning of the film, I would describe the actors as your typical jarhead in war films. As the film progressed however, they became rather complex. Each character has their own sense of values, some want to stay in Iraq and fight because they believe it’s the right thing to do while others, like James, the main protagonist, loves being a soldier and wants to stay in the chaos forever. The location of the filmed in Jordan, which is located a few clicks away from the Iraqi border. This helped created the realism and atmosphere it needed for film to be authentic as possible, which audiences love in war films. The scene that implements elements of Mise-en-scene would be the opening sequence of the film. The film opens with the quotation “The rush of battle is a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug”. The sequence is portrayed as a documentary film, having the camera act as if it were reporting a story on the soldiers rather than traditionally film a scene. The camera movements were rough and visuals were grainy. The lighting in this sequence was realistic, using frontal lighting to an area to create a natural environment and the color of the scene was neutral, which gave the impression that they were filming in a real situation. Being able to use mise en scene to convey a film’s message, theme, and symbols is such an enthralling experience, especially with the Hurt Locker. Achieving realism, you are able to guide an audience towards key narrative elements, and thus having a viewer’s such as me fully engaged. We want to know what it will be like to be a soldier like James and this film was able to take us into the action. This film was able to create the feeling of curiosity and suspense which adds to the many reasons why this film is great.
Cinematography are one of the many film elements that contribute to this film’s success. To have a scene to be more suspenseful, the director incorporated different types of camera angles. The scenes that focuses a character on a personal level, the framing would be tight and concise. The most occurring thing in the film are bombs, this represents how the bad the world is. The soldiers themselves can be described as the ones who are morally good and are praised for it because they are considered the main focus of the film. I noticed that green and orange was the reoccurring color theme of the entire film. These colors represents the correlation between peace and chaos in the film. Green represents the goodness that the soldiers are bringing into the war. Orange is suppose to represent the chaos and violence that war brings to an area. The camera was constantly close to the action, giving more suspense to it. The distance of the camera in the establishing shot is a bit isolated as it tries to show every part of a given location, which makes every scene dramatic and shoves away visual beauty for harsh, honest realism. The film was shot on-location, so actual sunlight and fluorescents were used as the film’s source of light. The best example of light contrast would be the scene where there was a massive explosion. The fire was able to provide the light source and it perfectly contrast with the pitch black night.
The supermarket scene would be the one that would be the most vital part of entire film. This scene’s cinematography was perfectly coordinated to convey the hollowness of the James as a person. It portrayed the contrast of the film by showing James’s inner conflict between his civilian life and his life in the military. James has become someone who rather risk his life in the battlefield than living a normal life. The setting would be the focal point of contrast between the two worlds. In Iraq, danger is everywhere, poverty is prevalent, every step you take could be your last. Then the scene’s setting changes and see James walking around a supermarket. The place is filled with food and basically the opposite of what it’s like in Iraq. This contrast portrays these worlds as completely different things. Another things to portray a contrast between the two worlds would be the use of color. In the parts where it shows James in Iraq, the color of sand is used to represents the grittiness of his life in the military. Everything from the buildings to the uniforms, they all share the same color. On the other hand, the supermarket’s use of colors is your typical color scheme of an average store in America. The color distinction was done intentionally for to correlate the sandy color palette of Iraq to dirtiness and the white color scheme of the supermarket is associated with cleanliness. Cutting from Iraq to America emphasizes the nature trying to cope with living with war and returning to civilian life. This was done on purpose to have the audience feel confused. One moment James is talking about how he loves his job and another where James is back home, trying make assimilate back into the normal of a civilian.
Overall, what James had to go through in the supermarket scene can relate to many soldiers who have been consumed by the horrors of combat. To them, trying to adjust to the normal life is just too hard for them. The supermarket scene describes that feeling perfectly. The techniques implemented were able to get into the emotional state of a war torn soldier who’s desperately trying to live a normal life. The feeling of being changed after emotionally intense events and feeling disoriented were drawn with detailed precision. James may be a ticking time bomb waiting to happen, but I think many soldiers can relate to what he’s been through.
Editing can be a subtle, but powerful tool that enable filmmakers with a plethora of film decisions. Surprisingly, “The Hurt Locker” had little editing done on the film, maybe that it wanted content, rather than form. Instead of making any “fancy” editing to the film, keeping it to a minimal actually preserves the realism of its message. It takes advantage of some very simple techniques. In most films, if not all of them, the length of the cuts depends on the situation of the scene. The pacing of this film was usually slow. Whenever something dramatic or emotional is happening, the duration of the shots lengthen, to extensive proportions. An example of this would be the conversation between Sanborn and James after the failed attempt of disarming the bomb from a suicide bomber. Sanborn snaps saying that he can no longer deal with the stress of being a soldier. This scene was the most critical in defining two different characters. Lengthening the shot helped give a sense of realism to the scene. During the action scenes however, the pace of the film quickens and the length of the shots shorten. This creates the rush needed to keep the audience invested into the film.
(CONCLUSION) The Hurt Locker is a very powerful film that deserves all the praise received of being an Academy Award Winner. The message that war can be used as a drug and soldiers themselves can be addicted to it has been prevalent throughout the film. This addiction has soldiers such as James to value war over anything else, including family. Personally thought the film’s topic was interesting because it focused on that impact a lot of people. The film has a good sense of projecting reality of what it is. It’s not the typical movie where it creates an illusion of fantasy where when the film is over, the audience returns to reality.