Last week my oldest son got me to go see The Hurt Locker with him and a few days later I took my youngest son to go see it – not because it's a wonderful or uplifting movie, but because it's an important movie.
Most retired military such as myself will see several policy/procedure errors but the cinematography was nearly flawless. Having been to the Middle East several times, I could almost feel the heat, taste the dust and grit, smell the vehicle exhaust mingled with one's own sweat. It was filmed in Jordan, and looking at how trashy the streets are – litter strewn willy-nilly with no real effort outside one's home to keep it clean – I can personally attest that yes, it's precisely that way.
I had to explain to my youngest son what the title meant. I told him I suspect the phrase "the hurt locker" comes from the Navy because we have a "seabag locker," a "bos'n locker," a "paint locker," and other "locker" compartments on ships – and the "hurt locker" was often used in humorous (or threatening) reference to physical pain or arduous labor. But at other times it was used to describe a bad mental or emotional situation and these were not funny at all.
The last description fit the main character in the movie. He had become an adrenaline junkie, and his job – defusing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – had become his world. Nothing else – not even his family and his child – were really that important to him. I've seen many sailors over the years whose duties on board ship were more important than their families. The engine room was their world, or Combat Information Center was their world. After having retired, I miss being haze gray and underway, I do miss it so – but I can only imagine what these poor bastards are going through now that they are also retired and can no longer hear ding ding – "underway, shift colors". I remember one – best damn boiler tech I'd ever known. His alcoholism cost him his career and I heard through the grapevine that he'd drunk himself to death in six months down in Kentucky after he was kicked out (with only two years to go till retirement). The boiler room was his world. It's gone now, and so is he. He had received a life sentence to the hurt locker and he only lasted six months. I didn't like him – he was a mean bastard even to his family – but I'm still sad to see him go that way.
It's not a movie for women – few of them will get it, will really understand the humor in drunk men beating each other senseless and laughing about it all the while. Women may see the choices the men face as silly, senseless but the men who watch will understand on a visceral level why it was difficult to kill that Arab, or why he had to try to defuse the bombs chained to a man's chest. In the end, The Hurt Locker is that rare war movie that reaches a psychological level not reached by other great war movies like Platoon or Full Metal Jacket.
I don't really want to say much more about the movie – I despise those who ruin movies or books for others – but I will say this: I took my youngest son to see it in the hope it would help convince him never to join the Army or the Marines. Navy or even the Air Force are fine, but I want him to have the best chance to live to be a crusty old fart like me.
I do miss being underway – just last night I was watching the Blu-Ray version of Enter the Dragon and there during an overview of Hong Kong harbor was one of my ships, the USS Camden. It might have been her sister ship the Sacramento, but either way it's nice to see it. Being retired military is indeed nice – and our experience gives us the opportunity to see things in movies like The Hurt Locker that most who watch it cannot know.
Overall, The Hurt Locker is strongly recommended – it's not an epic or heroic tale, but one that is good for a dad and his teenage son to see and to later discuss the choices made therein.