Kathryn Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker opens by using a quotation that reveals its thesis: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”
While the plot of the film revolves around how the drug of war affects Sergeant First Class William James (impressively played by Jeremy Renner), I found my focus being brought to the other members of his bomb detonation team: Sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie being used to his full potential) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty).
To Eldridge, war is a hallucinogen. It is made to appear that he has joined up to serve his sense of patriotic duty, but as the film shows, he cannot handle the pressures of war. In moments of tense combat, he freezes and panics. I like how Bigelow puts us in the suit of each solider. Listen to how Eldridge breathes. He pants, even hyperventilates at times, and it is a great display of his fear of dying, as well as his distaste for warfare.
Sanborn is more complicated, and is the most provocative of the three men, in my opinion. He is a professional soldier, bound by his obligation of duty to the regime of military life. As shown in the action packed sniper scene, he is well trained and executes proficiently. He does not contain the fear of death that Eldridge has. However, what he does fear is the feeling of being forgotten. In his most important, and best-acted scene, Sanborn confides to James the panic that runs through him. “If I die now, nobody will even really care. My folks, sure. But that don’t count. Who else? I don’t even have a son.” Sanborn is not only speaking for himself, but for all soldiers, past and present. The horrors of war have a numbing effect. As more men and women die, the easier it becomes for society to become indifferent to the fact. To Sanborn, as well as Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, to be forgotten is the worst crime a soldier can face. It is Sanborn who stands as the anti-war paradigm within The Hurt Locker.
Unquestionably, as previously stated, the film surrounds James. As his admiring colonel describes him, James is a “wild man.” He lives for the rush of disarming bombs. It is what he loves. While the scenes of him in his bombsuit make up a large bulk of the film and provide the most suspense, the most important scenes are of him at home with his wife and son. The defining shot of the film is of him in the supermarket trying to buy cereal for his family. The look on his face is one of helplessness and despondency. Why should he be bothered worrying about cereal when he could be in Iraq saving lives and getting a kick out of it at the same time? In a wonderful scene, James is speaking to his infant son and quietly admires how he could “love so many things.” He explains to his son that as he grows up he will learn to love only a few things and eventually, he might only be in love doing one thing. It doesn’t need to be explained what that one thing is to James, as the film’s final shot reiterates the fact.
The Hurt Locker is a film that requires multiple viewings. It is easy to get caught up in the action and fast-paced plot, but it requires several examinations to break down the eccentricities of its characters, particularly that of Sergeant Sanborn. For while war may be a drug, it has many personal side effects.