Popular geopolitics and film

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.

Read Peter Bradshaw’s review of The Hurt Locker at Guardian online

Read Dodds, K (2008) ‘Have you seen any good films lately?’ Geopolitics, International Relations and Film. Geography Compass. 2. 2, 476-94

For a critical review of this year’s Oscar nominated films, see John Pilger’s analysis at the New Statesman

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About matthewrech

Matthew Rech is a doctoral student in Geography at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. His current research focuses on military recruitment practices associated with the Royal Air Force. Whilst primarily rooted in the sub-discipline of Critical Geopolitics, the project draws heavily upon key conceptual debates in cultural geography, cultural studies and aesthetic theory. The methodological approach emphasises the more-than-representational qualities of military recruitment, and the particular ways of seeing that make recruitment effective. Matthew attained his BA in Geography in 2007 and his MA in Human Geography Research in 2008, both at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Previous dissertations have focused on systems theory and environmental policy, and the social effects of natural disaster.

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