ONE STAR - DISTURBING
The process of teaching Special Forces soldiers to kill has a profound effect upon their souls. Practicing skills that enable a soldier to move in the shadows and slip up on an enemy and take his or her life requires not only nerves of steel but a hardened heart as well. When this becomes a way of life, it is soon difficult to remember who is an enemy and who is a friend. This is the experience of Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro) in “The Hunted.”
Trained by L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), Aaron has seen the worst of human behaviors, the ethnic cleansing of an entire city. Led by a racist murderer who uses the cloak of a military command, Aaron slips into a mosque he is using for a command center and slices him to pieces. For this action, he is given a military award. This incongruity haunts his soul and turns him into a hunted man.
Though this could have been a fascinating study of how a man lives with being awarded a military medal for performing an act that sickens his soul, the film does not rise to the occasion. It hunts for such a message, but misses its mark.
Sent to kill again, Aaron goes berserk and kills the entire family of the enemy, and then runs from the military to live in the forests of Oregon. At this point, L.T. is brought to Oregon to find him.
L.T. is the civilian professional who trains the Special Forces soldiers to kill. But L.T. himself does not kill - not even animals. This fascinating twist to the plot is even more meaningful when we realize that Aaron has been writing him letters asking for his help because of the nightmares that have been haunting him.
Though he has not responded to his letters, when L.T. shows up at his hidden forest home, Aaron at first thinks he has come to help him. But it soon becomes clear that L.T. is there to take him in.
This is often the way those who train and send soldiers into war avoid the consequences of their training. Teaching young men to kill is seen as a job that one does well in order to protect or serve our nation. But when these soldiers become haunted by their assignments, people like L.T. have nowhere to turn. There is no larger morality or theology that justifies their behaviors. So instead, they avoid their own responsibility and simply try to “put away” soldiers like Aaron.
When the predictable and inevitable showdown between L.T. and Aaron occurs and L.T. realizes he himself will have to kill in order to stop Aaron, the full impact of his behavior comes full circle. L.T. cannot continue to think of himself as an innocent, animal-loving loner who lives in the beauty of creation, but he has to acknowledge he himself is now a taker-of-human-life. Such a person is changed forever.
The haunted souls of those who are trained to kill need the protective care of a loving community. To hunt them down and project all the responsibility for their behaviors onto them alone only perpetuates the killing and avoids the lessons to be learned. Then we will all be in danger of being hunted.
- What do you believe must change in a normal person’s heart in order for them to become a specially trained military assassin? How do you think this would affect the rest of their lives and their other relationships?
- When the military sends a soldier into combat and asks them to do a horrendous act such as assassinate a foreign tyrant, should such an action be honored with a military honor? What does this do to the soldier’s soul?
- It could be argued that being a military assassin should not be permitted in modern warfare, and yet it is also true that there are some specific leaders who lead whole nations into ethnic cleansing. Do you believe we should assassinate such people as Hitler?
- The way in which L.T. avoided responsibility for training people to kill was to never kill himself. Do you believe that teachers are as guilty as their students when they teach their students to kill?