Sunday, January 17, 2010

War & Life: Film Reviews of The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air

Tonight was the beginning of the Hollywood award season, and two of the movies that are up for a lot of nominations are The Hurt Locker and Up In The Air.  Both of these movies are united by the fact that they depict real life - the life of our generation that is shaped by wars and economic recession. And both movies don't shy away from showing the horrors of war and recession and the toll that these events take upon us mere humans.

The Hurt Locker takes place in Iraq, circa 2004.  It chronicles the lives of three soldiers who are part of an EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) team - a bomb disposal unit that is called in whenever the infantry encounters a situation in which there might be a possible IED (improvised explosive devices) nearby.  The film is both remarkable and horrific in how you actually feel as if you are in the midst of the situations that the EOD team encounters.  It is as terrible as Saving Private Ryan because as you are watching the movie, you also realize that this is real - this is an event that takes place every single day in the lives of the soldiers.  You watch these men put themselves in impossibly dangerous situations in which they are exposed in every possible way and in which every single person that they encounter could be a possible enemy - someone who wants to blow them up.

That is the scary, horrific part of the film - that the "enemy" is dressed in everyday plain clothes and hiding in buildings with doorways, using oil tankers and cellphones to detonate remote bombs to destroy both soldiers and civilians.  Even in the desert, hiding behind goats, rocks, hills.  Modern guerilla warfare is absolutely terrifying and impossible.  After watching the film it is unbelievable that any semblance of democracy and stability has actually occurred in Iraq.

What is even sadder is watching the scenes of the lead sergeant trying to fit back in at home.  After risking his life multiple times diffusing bombs, he stands in a grocery store cereal aisle dumbfounded and annoyed by all the choices available to him.  He can't fit back in to "life" - it holds no meaning to him anymore.  Even his family isn't enough to make him want to stay.  So he chooses to go back for another tour of duty.

The film is emotionally traumatizing and exposes you to the horrors and impossible difficulties that soldiers face daily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Friends are there one moment, gone the next.  Death is feared and yet unavoidable.  It breaks my heart to know that a whole generation of men and women are experiencing this reality every day.  It is no wonder that they come home with PTSD and find it impossible to live life in America - our mundane reality compared to the highly charged and literal explosive reality of war.

And yet that mundane reality is a difficult and hard road for many right now, as the movie Up in the Air illustrates.  The movie is about a man who's job is to go around to companies and fire people - the companies literally hire him to come and lay off their workers.  The main character, Ryan Bingham, travels all around the country, from city to city, airport to airport, priding himself on how well he does his job and extolling the virtue of his lack of relationships and the ease of his life because of it.  He goes around to hotel conference rooms giving "motivational" speeches talking about an empty backpack - a life free of the burden of relationships and obligations.

This was a hard movie for me to watch.  Having gone through multiple layoffs at my company, it brought back many hard and painful memories of people that I knew and loved being told they no longer had a job.  Even though many of my old coworkers have gone on and found better, more fulfilling jobs, there are still many that haven't.

The ending of the movie also depressed me.  Ryan achieves his main goal in life, and yet finds that it holds no meaning.  When he finally realize that he wants the burden and obligations of relationships, he is rejected and forced to realize that his life has had little meaning.  Standing all alone in an airport, he has no where to go and no one to go to.

In the end, I guess it serves as a reminder to hold on to the relationships that we have in our life, because they are the only things that matter and are real.  Everything else is just an illusion and living a detached life ends up in a meaningless goal, like the one that Ryan achieves.

Both movies are relevant to life in 2010 as they depict the realities that we live with today - one that is a distant reality to the majority of Americans, but for the few that are experiencing the horrors of war, a reality that the majority will never fully understand; and the other, a reality that at least 10% of the population is experiencing and living through, but hopefully are holding as hard and fast to the relationships that they do have to help them get through this time.  It's hard to really recommend either one of them and I don't if you like to escape reality when watching movies.  But if you want to experience a heavy dose of life in the first decade of the 2000s, then watch them.

Have you seen either one of these movies? What's your take? Agree, disagree? Would love to know! Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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