Saturday, June 05, 2010

Imperial Violence On a Blockbuster Budget

Several months after the fact, but more scorn can always be heaped upon apologias for military-industrial oppression, am I right?

Unlike the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, I didn't like The Hurt Locker - not that it's utter shit. The script suffers from a post-24 lack of narrative focus, but the film's strengths are plain to see: the actors acquit themselves admirably, and the cinematography is gritty & gripping. But like Quentin Tarantino's magnum o' post-modernism Inglorious Basterds, Kathryn Bigelow's film is a smug tribute to American hegemony. While Tarantino reiterates the United States' claim as the sovereign of narrative (fictional and, it's presumed, otherwise), Bigelow cheerleads the great American pastime of the last half-century: state-sanctioned violence.

As many a writer has been hasty to point out, The Hurt Locker is ostensibly a film expressing America's disillusionment with military endeavour. Instead of the square-jawed stoicism & heroics of WWII epics, we witness the tears, dread, incessant stress, and boderline breakdowns of the modern American soldier. But this doesn't encourage the United States to holster its weapon and retire to the quiet discomfort of being a former imperial power. Quite the opposite: by emphasizing moral ambiguity & displaying its scars (psychic & physical, societal & personal), The Hurt Locker shows that we are intimately aware of the chronic difficulty of military engagement - and yet we accept these hardships because such are the costs of the imperial adventure. We accept these hardships because of our nobility, our conviction, our strength of will. The locals are an anonymous throng of shape-shifty brown folks whose true intentions are foggy & dubious, but we are not so cowardly to deny our mission. Though our methods are flawed, our intentions are good. Though we doubt & struggle, we will not betray our commitment.

This is the same self-assurance of moral superiority that Žižek saw in the "darkening down" of such modern bastions of justice-in-action as James Bond and Batman. The "Boy Scout in blue" certitude of old-school superheroes doesn't reflect the endless complexity of contemporary society. As our iconic lone wolves suffer from all-too-familiar faults (e.g. doubt, vengefulness, lapses in reason) they reassure us that they understand the full scope & equivocality of the situation, while enacting their mission precisely as though there were no obscurity or ambiguity. Before, we enjoyed our violence because it had the full weight of Good & Truth behind it. Now, we enjoy our violence because it is difficult, invigorating, sadomasochism as proof of our dedication & macroscopic understanding. And make no doubt that we enjoy it, as attested by the the absurd slo-mo pimp stroll army recruitment ad of The Hurt Locker's final minute.

Bigelow's next project is slated to be "an adrenaline-filled exposé of life in the notorious triple border region between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay." I'm curious to see how bare she'll strip the scenario of social, economic, and military entanglements so dense it makes Traffic look like a Jim Jarmusch short. No doubt the film will prove that, asymmetric enforcement be damned, America has the intestinal & technological fortitude to make the difficult decisions in the War On Drugs, and the darkly-pigmented locals will be dealt with all the depth & feeling of a first-person shooter.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

ZunguZungu agrees about the Hurt Locker,but likes Inglorious Basterds.