3 Stars - Troubling
Taking his cue from fellow war correspondent Chris Hedges, journalist Mark Boal writes a screenplay which embodies Hedges’ observation that the rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” Having been an imbedded journalist in 2004 with a U.S. Army EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) Team during the Iraqi war, Boal insightfully presents Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) as the addicted team leader. Addicted to the rush and danger of war, James demonstrates the addictive experience of people for whom normal life no longer has any pleasure, which is a symptom of all addictions including this one.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who joined Boal in producing the film, the tension she is able to create is itself a potent experience. As leader of his EOD team, James’ obvious desire for danger is accentuated by the cautious responses of his team members, Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). Knowing his behavior is not only dangerous for him but also for them, they struggle to deal with him. This is also a common experience of those who must share their lives with an addicted person.
The strength of the film is the way it weaves together the personal relationships of the team members with the daily experiences of war. When people must rely on one another to stay alive, their fears and struggles become very literal for James, Sanborn and Eldridge. This is seen not only in their physical fighting with one another but also in discussing their temptation to kill James in order to protect themselves.
But their relationship is not only one of struggle. Their fears and insecurities also bond them together as they attempt to understand themselves and one another. This is seen in a moment of almost child-like vulnerability when James asks J.T. if he knows why he is as he is. Both decide that they do not know and their lives continue on the same trajectories. The only source of help in attempting to discover the answers to their questions is a fatally naïve psychiatrist Col. John Cambridge (Christian Camargo).
The pain caused from sharing life with an addicted person is what is meant by the reference to putting a person into “the hurt locker.” That war is addictive and the trauma long-lasting is a pain that not only affects the soldiers but their families and their nations as well. Finding a way to end war requires more than new weapons or psychiatric therapy, it requires spiritual guidance that is painfully absent from this story. We cannot help but wonder how things would have been different with it.
Discussion for those who have seen the film:
The traumatic impact of war is hard to measure or treat. What do you think should be done to treat soldiers’ horrific memories and ease their re-entry into civilian life?
The physical and psychological condition of anhedonia is when a person is addicted to one thing so that nothing else brings pleasure – neither sex, food nor life itself. When James returns to war and leaves behind his wife and son, he shows the symptom of this condition. Have you ever experienced a love for one thing so much that you lost the desire for other pleasures of life? How did you find healing?
The pain caused by war is not only physical but also spiritual. What do you believe will cause humans to stop waging war?