Many of us attended the last Club get-together and watched the 82nd Annual Academy Awards, and we watched as THE HURT LOCKER picked up six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. I now have the widescreen DVD of this film and will politic to show it to the Club. David Gilmour forwarded on this wonderful article from the THE NEW YORK TIMES:

The poet Brian Turner, who wrote Iraq War poems in “Here, Bullet,” saw HURT LOCKER in Hanoi, wrote the following review.  We chanced to see him back in ’05 when he read from his book in Tacoma. –David

By Brian Turner

New York Times
March 4, 2010

–This is the third in a five-part series,
“Retelling the War,” in which veterans
discuss how books, movies and other tales
of combat shaped their perceptions of
themselves and of war. –Ed.

HANOI — Cinématheque, a small art house
theater here, isn’t easy to find; it’s
tucked down a long, narrow, dimly lit
alley lined with motorbikes. It feels a
bit clandestine turning down that shadowy
corridor before emerging into the hanging
foliage and candlelit courtyard of the
Hotel des Artistes.

At Cinematheque, I met up with two
acquaintances, Lady Borton and Chuck
Searcy, for a screening of “The Hurt Locker.”
I was well aware of the historically loaded
nature of the situation — me, an Iraq war
veteran, going to see a fictional film set
in that war, in a land still marked by the
horror of one of our previous wars, one that
for many Americans was only experienced
through other fictional films —
like “Apocalypse Now,” “The Deer Hunter,”
and “Platoon.”

In the summer of 2004 (while I was still
in Iraq) I wrote a poem called “The Hurt
Locker” — it appeared in my book,
*Here, Bullet*, published in 2005. I’d
first heard the phrase (which means, in a
broad sense, a private place of pain) when
my squad leader turned to me and voiced
his frustration with so many indirect
attacks on us (mortar attacks, roadside
bombs, snipers, etc.). He said, “Sometimes
I just want to put them in the hurt locker.”
It was a bizarre phrase that stuck with me
for about two weeks before I wrote the poem.
Hearing the title of this film rekindled my
curiosity in the phrase itself and sparked
my interest in seeing it.

Lady Borton is the author of many fine books,
including *After Sorrow: An American Among
the Vietnamese*. She helped both North and
South Vietnamese children who were injured
during the war get prosthetic limbs. (She’s
currently the International Affairs
Representative for the American Friends
Service Committee in Hanoi.) Chuck is a
Vietnam veteran who returned in 1995 to
work on reconciliation and healing.
Since 2000 he’s worked with Project RENEW
“to deal with the problem of landmines
and unexploded ordnance in central Vietnam.”

Lady and Chuck and I stepped into the Hanoi
night after the film, lingering curbside
to talk about it.

I asked Chuck, who is humble and professional
in speaking of his work, if the film resonated
with him. He explained that de-mining in
Vietnam now, in peacetime, is completely
different: the removal of unexploded bombs
and mines is done without the simultaneous
layer of ongoing combat. It’s done with great
attention to safety measures. (Still, I remember
the fall of his voice earlier in the night when
he spoke of the sad loss of two de-mining experts…)

For me, watching “The Hurt Locker” brought back
memories of — among other things — roadside
bombs in Iraq. I recounted one of the insane
jobs I had there. My platoon was tasked to patrol
the city of Mosul and to make sure routes were
clear. We’d stop short of spots along the way
where bombs might be positioned (often in the
trash and debris under freeway overpasses, for
example). Our squad would then split up
— one fire team to each side of the road.
I’d walk down the shoulder with my team trailing
me; Sgt. Zavala, my counterpart, likewise walked
the opposite side of the road. We’d then walk up
to the trash piles to visually inspect the area
for signs of an I.E.D. It became a routine part
of our job, but at the same time it was completely
insane — part of my mind couldn’t help
contemplating the gravity of what I might be
walking into.

In the summer of 2004, we were called up to
cordon off a Mosul neighborhood where a roadside
bomb had been planted. Helicopters circled
overhead. Snipers [were] positioned on the
rooftops. Vehicle and foot traffic was barred
from the area. Like the curious Iraqis
who peered from their balconies to see what
the Americans would do next, I turned to watch
an American soldier from an E.O.D. (Explosive
Ordnance Disposal) unit walk out toward the bomb,
donned in a thick moonsuit. He was tethered with
a white cord from which another soldier
unspooled him closer and closer to the I.E.D.
This was perhaps the bravest thing I ever saw
someone do in Iraq.

There was something in the soundtrack of
“The Hurt Locker,” near the very end of the
film, that evoked the Western. And when our
main character (Staff Sgt. William James,
played by Jeremy Renner) walks back into
Iraq, back into the hurt locker of the war,
away from the camera and toward the vanishing
point on the horizon, I perceived echoes of
Shane, the gunslinger hero who rides into the
sunset, solo, wounded, into a place beyond
the audience, beyond comprehension.

The gunslinger and the horizon. Part of me
thinks it reinforces the romantic ideal of
the hero that’s been handed down to us in the
storytelling vein for centuries now. It’s
connected to the idea that there is glory in
war, which I find more than troubling. On
the other hand, if we see in that final scene
a soldier walking back toward the bomb, to
confront the addiction to adrenaline, or the
fear, or the confusing and charged emotions
that overtake humans in war — well,
that’s intriguing.

The last image of “The Hurt Locker” expresses
a theme I’ve often tried to articulate. In
the film, the main character cannot completely
return to America, to the norm of a life back
home. In a sense, he’s in Iraq whether he’s
physically in a supermarket in the States, or in
a bomb suit walking into the hurt locker.

That image rings true to me, but I’d take it
a step further: I’d say that we, as a nation,
now contain this explosive ordnance within us.
Within our national psyche. We have generations
of combat veterans and military family members
woven throughout the fabric of our entire
culture. Some of us have to walk down those dusty
streets. We have to approach that which might
tear us apart. We have to try to defuse
what is explosive within.

–Brian Turner served seven years in the Army, most recently in 2004
as an infantry team leader in Mosul with the Third Stryker Brigade
Combat Team, Second Infantry Division. His 2005 book of poems, *Here,
Bullet*, has won several awards. He is the recipient of the 2009-2010
Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship and teaches at Sierra Nevada College.


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