Saturday, March 13, 2010

On The Hurt Locker

Well at the risk of being too untimely, and having not written an entry in quite some time, I'm going to frantically write down a few thoughts about this years Best Picture: The Hurt Locker.

I'm ever so thankful that Up in the Air didn't win, because really at that point they might as well have given the award to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. And, I'm also glad that Avatar didn't win either as its plot line was rivaled only by GI Joe (which was clearly robbed of several acting awards).

I'm happy that The Hurt Locker won. It is a deserving picture, and is one of a very select number of movies that really had me emotionally involved. This isn't to say that I felt for the characters, but rather that the tensest moments of the film were gut wrenching for me. I give a great amount of praise to any movie that can evoke a visceral reaction in its viewer, even if every now and then I shook the feeling off and felt rather ashamed at the grip that it had on me. Because after all, I can't help but feel duped when a film can successfully play my heartstrings like a harp from time to time; this to me is the very definition of trite even when done well.

Of course, I'd be amiss not to mention the content of the film which has caused quite a bit of fury in the press, namely that the movie is (apparently) completely unrealistic. As someone who never went to war, I'm not going to comment on the accuracy but I did read a few interesting analyses. All of the events depicted in this film have happened to some degree, but they have happened to different units. In that sense, the film makers weren't being completely untruthful but it does require a bit of information gathering on the audiences behalf to gain anything factual rather than emotional from the film.

Whether its okay to be untruthful in the name of art is an open debate. I personally don't think the film really built up these characters strongly, and it could have easily been shot with a different unit involved in each situation. This would presumably be much more realistic, while changing little in the way of content. But I suppose for narrative purposes, portraying all events as happening to one unfortunate unit in 50 days creates a better story; it is however at least worth acknowledging the expense of realism.

The reason that there is so much uproar is because the film is shot in a very documentarian style. In that sense, it implicitly casts itself as reality and dupes the majority of its viewing audience into the delusion that they understand the reality of life as a soldier in Iraq. Most soldiers agree that they accurately and artfully crafted the tense feeling and tenuous relationships of the military to the Iraqi civilian population. This is why it won an Oscar and why in my mind it is an artistic success that contributes greatly to the public discourse on the successes and limitations of this war and war in general.

I do however tend to agree with the 'wolf in sheeps clothing' argument about the obligations of artists. No one gave a second thought to the factual basis for Avatar, but this film clearly gives the feeling that what the viewer is watching is a direct depiction of reality and in that sense I think artists absolutely do have an obligation to adhere loosely (how loose is to loose?) to facts. I suspect that many would disagree with me here, and the good served by this film may very well overshadow its inaccuracies but its a discussion worth having.

We can all see that film makers obviously benefit by creating a feeling of realism whether through a few words at the beginning (The following events were based on a true story...) or the minimalist approach to cinematography taken by The Hurt Locker. I merely propose that there is a line, which I don't intend to properly articulate, whereby the cost of doing so (in terms of a grossly misinformed populace) exceeds the benefit (public awareness of life in Iraq in this films case).

With regards to the book 'A Million Little Pieces', I proudly fall in the camp that states that no matter how much good this book did in encouraging people to seek help from drug addiction, the author's means of doing so by presenting fiction as fact in the name of making a better story were untruthful, shameful, and should be vilified. I don't propose that The Hurt Locker goes that far (unless it starts showing up in Documentary sections), but it is treading a fine line.

If you have any other examples (I'm sure there are tons that are eluding me at the moment) where art embelishes reality for better or for worse, I'd love to hear about them and discuss the issue further.

*posted on my blog, fingerprints.and.snowflakes*

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