THE HURT LOCKER Blows Up More Than Bombs (CARE2 and the OSCARS)

Sunday, February 28, 2010. I wake up, brew a pot of coffee, and sit down to read the Los Angeles Times. Then my world shifts ever so slightly.

On the front page of the Calendar section I see the headline, “Redeploying Gender.” Jumping off the page this time around, the gender in question is masculinity.  Finally, splashed across the corporate page of a mainstream publication, gender is no longer code for women! I read this and it feels damn good.

The article in question is about film director Kathryn Bigelow’s war movie and Oscar-award front-runner, The Hurt Locker. More than just a blow-’em-up extravaganza, journalist Reed Johnson suggests that Bigelow’s film “shakes up traditional ideas of what men are and how they act.” Bigelow likes the big bang in her movies — guns, explosions, a rough-punch to the gut. And in The Hurt Locker, there’s plenty of that rugged, isolated individualism that so often defines modern manhood. But Bigelow is more deeply interested in the warrior codes of masculinity that are intertwined with men’s fears and feelings, and their conflicted impulses around loyalty and leadership, posturing and parenthood.

“Kathryn,” I want to say out loud (as if she were in my living room), “So am I!” And so are other writers thinking deeply about masculinity, like Jackson Katz, Judith “Jack” Halberstam, and Sinclair Sexsmith, just to check a few in the genre.

My caffeinated heart beats a bit faster with excitement and I continue reading the Times

The article is quick to note that Kathryn Bigelow’s perspectives on masculinity should not be labeled feminist — and even quicker to comment that a feminist label can be a death knell for women working in Hollywood. But as my eyes skip to the right-side of the page, I see film critic Betsy Sharkey has also invoked the F-word in a companion article, this time in reference to director James Cameron’s exploration of “what women want, how they define themselves,” and — to me, a key point — “how society values [women's] worth.” It’s troubling that while Bigelow (and other women) face professional risk for getting labeled a feminist, Cameron stands to benefit. It’s a jarring juxtaposition.

But, this problem notwithstanding …

Johnson counterposes that Cameron and Bigelow’s “partially intertwined careers suggest a growing fluidity and flexibility in how gender perspectives function in film.” [The italics are my added enthusiasm.]

Did I just see this right? This beautifully written, politically trenchant, gender-astute sentence … on the pages of the Sunday Times? With write-ups like this and more projects on the horizon (Michael Kimmel’s popular book Guyland is optioned by Dreamworks), the day is looking even brighter here in sunny SoCal.

Still, there’s a ways to go in cracking the celluloid ceiling.

As Jane Fonda comments on Huffington Post, there are great moments in film this year, thanks to women in Hollywood. Five years ago, Fonda, with Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan, founded the Women’s Media Center to keep pointing out that “women are not only assets but requirements for a truly democratic media, and for strong, innovative entertainment.” We need to improve the numbers of women and people of color among the Hollywood players. But it helps that directors like Bigelow are shifting images of gender and masculinity in our everyday movie faves. This, too, is an important step toward gender justice.

Oh, and postscript. Thanks to Reed Johnson, I have a clever new phrase that I plan to use in a sentence today: Stealth Feminist. Brill!

This post first appeared on the group blog Girl with Pen, where Professor Shira Tarrant is an editor.

by Mario Sundar via Fllickr/Creative Commons
by Shira Tarrant


Lois A.
Lois A.7 years ago

I have seen the movie. I found it too long and like a western - all about men (US men - the Iraqis are non-existent as people) being brave and violent and emotionally immature and/or scarred. Women don't exist at all. When the main character with a hand gun faces down an Iraqi in a car, I thought Oh spare me, how many times have I seen this scene in a western? I thought David Simon's Generation Kill was a much more moving take on the pointlessness of war.
But I'm glad a woman won the Oscar. The film is well-crafted and well-acted - pity about the absence of a point of view

Anthea P.
Anthea P7 years ago

I have seen The Hurt Locker and while it's a very good, possibly definitive modern war film, the concept of gender fluidity did not in the least cross my mind. Let's not get confused with the fact that there's a female director tackling a traditionally male director subject, because females in character roles were under-represented in the film, and in any case the film was written by a man - Mark Boal. I would have been interested to see more women represented in the film in a roles that weren't solely stay-at-home wife. Did anyone notice that the lead character's wife was barely interested to even have a conversation with her husband about his combat experiences when he has tried to bring the subject up and in the next scene he's off to another war zone for a 365 day rotation? In any case, there are plenty of women in combat roles on the front line today, but their stories are rarely represented. I should add that GI Jane starring Demi Moore (directed by the masterful Ridley Scott & absolutely canned / panned in its day) remains a guilty pleasure for me and is one of the better films about women and gender, even if it is flawed in a lot of ways. Anne Bancroft in the role as a double-crossing wheeler dealer politician says more about gender fluidity than anything in the Hurt Locker. Oh and then there's the delicious Viggo Mortensen with more than a few memorable lines such as "She's not the problem - we are". What more do you want?!

Dominic C.
Dominic C7 years ago

The Hurt Locker is a typical war film portraying male hormones and masculinity but also balancing the fears they face on the battle field. Its actually an equivalent to Oliver Stone's, Platoon. For Bigelow, a female, to attempt and challenge herself in the world of war movies dominated by men, this was a real honour and step up in the world of war movie direction.
This movie also salutes the many men and women serving the US, NATO countries and countries that contribute soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan for the past 9 years.

Devaney Roberts
Devaney Roberts7 years ago

I totally agree with the hurt locker... it shows that men aren't the only ones with action in them... women are too.

Julia W.
Julia W7 years ago

I am interested in seeing "The Hurt Locker".

I was a bit shocked that the song they played as Kathryn Bigelow walked offstage after winning the first women's Best Director Academy Award was "I Am Woman."

Koo J.
greenplanet e7 years ago

I don't know how much a "shoot-em-up" war movie (albeit with some other issues) really questions hyper-masculinity.

Roger H.
.7 years ago

The fact that Cameron and Bigelow were married for a short time and she went to him with an unedited version of "Hurt Locker" to get his opinion wasn't mentioned in the article. His reply was that the movie was good enough that it should be released as is with no editing. I saw an interview with both of them and Cameron stated that she deserves to win the award for best picture and for best director for this movie. I can't wait to see it. It puts a human aspect to war and shows there is a real problem that exists with veterans returning from combat when trying to readjust to civilian life and the need for help with that readjustment. It is not just another "war movie", but a real social problem that our returning veterans face.

Raphael M.
Raphael M7 years ago

GinLar S., have you opened your shutters and taken a look-see at the world lately?
Men are (mostly) in charge of governments, of banks, of corporations, of industry, of religious organizations, of the military, of the courts, of police, of nearly every damn mess on and off the planet, but they have no rights? What?

As far as gender exploration, flexibility and is tied to overcoming an extremely limiting, rigid cultural conditioning, which is a necessary personal as well as a social undertaking for anyone who wants to live more intelligently.
Books such as "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", which was a compilation of superficial, irrelevant, mainstream gender cliches, do not help.
Could Hollywood help?

Jack Nacht
Past Member 7 years ago

I know I've said it about others before, but I'll repeat: GinLar needs to take women's studies 101 before speaking.

GinLar S.
Larry S7 years ago

Don't watch tv or movies. And, when will we be getting to Mens Rights? There are "rights" for everyone and everything but men! Have you noticed that yet? Sort of sexist, favortism and/or discriminatory isn't it?
Sorry, just had to get that out...