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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Manliness and Manitude (pt 1) in Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's Hurt Locker

Someone said she wouldn't read a book without females. Dave Wolverton suggests you populate your stories with a maximum of character types to maximize your audience. No doubt that's true, but life happens outside mixed groups, and fiction can get interesting when the focus narrows.

Bigelow and Boal's Hurt Locker tells (yes, there will be spoilers, so go watch it) with a three-man EOD team or a bomb diffusing squad.

Death: Amazingly, they toss big actors Guy Pearce and Ralph Fienes, and we the audience believe they'll be around for awhile. Boom. Nope. They want you to think this is life and death. The people you're used to rooting for, can die. That's war.... But it's also something that fascinates men--violence, death, honor, codes of conduct.

Violence, Honor, Codes of Conduct: The lead, Sergeant First Class William James [Jeremy Renner], takes an unnecessary risk with the smoke screen, which I doubt this character would take. It seems to me likely he'd take risks to defuse bombs, but not stop his mates from helping (unless he has reasoning we're not privy to). So in this case, we agree when Sergeant J. T. Sanborn [Anthony Mackie] punches James in the gut.

Violence, Honor, Codes of Conduct: Of course, not all men are equally drawn to these subjects, but most of us are to a degree or are fascinated by other men's fascination. The scene involving traded gut-punches evoked memories. One young wanted a group of us guys to organize wrestling matches. When I broke my arm playing rugby, he urged me to play again, with the broken limb. A river, inner-tube trip with another group of guys ended up in an impromptu mud-wrestling match. You play or you're a spoil sport. Or say, the pointless grade-school fight (started by someone claiming I said something I had not--someone bored, no doubt) ended up in friendship afterwards.

A Man's Life: We wind up focused on one man's life, William James (perhaps named after the famed 19th century philosopher/psychologist). He befriends a lad, threatening his life one minute, then saying he's joking the next, proving the joke by buying things from the kid and giving him bonuses (earned by defending James's terrible soccer kick). When James find a dead kid looking like the kid he befriended, he must avenge the kid's life, as if the kid were his own. He holds the man for whom the boy works. He interrogates a family. He shoots down three men in the street, one of whom is part of his EOD team. And it turns out James misidentified the kid.

When James goes home to the States, he tells his baby boy (not his wife) that for men all the things in life you love whittles down to one or two things. For him, there's only one. He returns to Iraq for another tour.

Part 2 regarding Michael Chabon's "Along the Frontage Road" appears here.

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