By Matthew Rech
With the recent success of Kathryn Bigalow’s The Hurt Locker at this year’s BAFTAs, we are reminded of the enduring popularity of dramatised accounts of war. Awarded with no less than six BAFTAs, The Hurt Locker accounts for the “long and painful endgame in Iraq” (Bradshaw), with a specific focus on the hearts and minds of US combatants. All told, as Bradshaw continues, The Hurt Locker, with unpretentious clarity and freshness, provides an alternative account of the ‘war on terror’.
Pausing to consider the relevance of war films in western culture, and particularly accounts such as The Hurt Locker, necessarily prompts us to consider also their political salience. Writing in Geography Compass, Klaus Dodds provides a good overview of work in critical geopolitics, international relations and security studies that posit film as component in framing the structures of global politics.
Focusing on one of Dodds’ key arguments for a more progressive study of film in geopolitics (that of prioritising genre and sub-genre as complicit in the construction of identity politics), we find a way of contextualising films like The Hurt Locker more productively.
For example, as Dodds suggests, genre matters because it “permit[s] the audience to potentially anticipate character development…[and]…also to…anticipate and predict the denouncement of specific films” (480). So, whilst The Hurt Locker might be considered subversive in terms of plot, focus and dominance over it’s larger grossing contemporaries, siting this film correctly in the economic, cultural and ’emotional landscapes’ of film (see Maltby in Dodds) might enable us to more readily interpret it’s significance in the framing of real-world geopolitical narratives.