The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My bomb scene phobia cured

with 14 comments

There are a couple things in the world that give me creeps.

One of them is spiders, which bugs me (sic!) quite a bit. How I wish that I was more like Sigourney Weaver! It doesn’t make sense why a tiny little eight legged creature should be any worse than a six legged one, even when it’s got the size of an ant, but there you are. I fear them and I hate them.

For a few years I played the role of the heroic mother. I pretended they didn’t bother me since I didn’t want to inspire my children to be like me. So I pulled myself together, saying “oh, look a spider, how cute!” and tried to sound convincing. But once my kids were big enough to understand that they should trust their own judgment rather than their mother’s, I went back to follow my instincts, which meant jumping up on a chair, screaming and pointing at the monster spider that was about to eat me alive and expecting someone else to deal with it.

Bomb phobia
A second thing that gives me the creeps is when I have to watch people disarming bombs in TV series or movies.

You know how the story usually goes. Here’s a bomb that needs to be dealt with and a squad is sent in, armed with scissors, ready to cut the wires and there’s always a clock counting down and it’s going to reach zero any time now and their hands are trembling and they’re sweating all over the place and they HAVE to cut NOW and they don’t know if they should cut the red wire or the black one and they have to just take a chance on it and I’m wondering why on Earth they can’t just send in a machine to do those things, haven’t they learned to build robots YET and I close my eyes and my blood is boiling with bomb-squad-sympathy angst, not only a little bit of excitement, exactly as intended I guess, but it’s not a pleasant fear, it’s the kind of fear that makes you want to take cover under a blanket and refuse to leave your shelter EVER, at least not before the episode is over. Because who knows, that bomb might actually go off!

Now get me right: for my fears, a bomb scene in a movie isn’t a deal breaker. After all I can always close my eyes for a little while and open them once it’s over.

Nevertheless, it probably was just as well that I didn’t know what I was in for as I decided to watch The Hurt Locker, a movie which apparently won six Oscars a couple of years ago, but which I knew very little about since I don’t care that much for the academy awards.

Without having any details, I knew as much as that it was a war movie. If nothing else you could tell from the cover.

To be honest, I’ve never been all that much into this genre. I suppose all those high quality Vietnam films that came out in the 70s and 80s did more than enough to satisfy whatever desire I had for it for a very long time. There was nothing wrong with those movies, but after a while they all melted together in my memory into a soup of mud and napalm burning in the jungle heat, boys longing to go home, lost limbs, lost trust and drugs as the only comfort. I had been there and done that – not once, but many times. Too many.

However with a scenario set in a contemporary Iraq, it sounded as if The Hurt Locker could offer a different angle. I was also tickled by the information that it was made by a female director. Not only did she snatch an Oscar for it in a time where few women even get to make any movies at all. She did it in a genre that I think very few would expect a woman to go for. Of course I wanted to see it and rejoice at the fact that this kick-ass director had helped to break the ground for more women in Hollywood.

Nonstop bomb disabling
Little did I imagine that I was about to watch a movie that contained more or less non stop disabling of bombs, one after another, only broken up by a few scenes where they shot at each other instead. And little did I imagine how much it would engage me. With very little introduction to the characters or a “plot” to follow, the film had my full attention from the very first minute and kept it all the way through.

I who usually find action and war movies pretty borning, suddenly found myself absolutely immersed, not to say hypnotized, by the chaos, by the shaky hand camera, by the tension, by the people in the bomb squad, especially their leader, wonderfully played by Jeremy Renner, who has exactly the right mixture of goodness, arrogance, craziness, fatalism and charisma. These guys have a job that probably is about the worst you possibly could imagine. The theory suggested in the film from the very start in the form of a quote is that they’re driven by some kind of addiction.

Is this theory founded in reality? Maybe, maybe not. I suppose that while it’s probably not the motivation for every bomb expert, it could very well be true in a few cases. And this brings us over the question of realism. Is there any truth in it or is it just a case of free fantasies and speculation, no more believable than any James Bond movie?

I threw a quick glance at IMDb and found a huge amount of furious 1/10 reviews from military veterans who pointed out all the factual errors in it.

The script is based on or at least inspired by articles written by a journalist who followed a bomb squad in Iraq for a couple of weeks, and maybe this in combination with the shaky hand camera style led those people to believe that they would get to see a documentary rather than a feature film.

But if want to make a film that works as a film you need to make some compromises, especially when you’re working with a small budget and under quite difficult circumstances during the recording, which was the case. After watching the “about” film in the extras, I can’t say anything that I’m impressed by how they’ve managed to create a very authentic feeling by small means. There may be flaws in it but they escape my untrained eye and they don’t take away anything of my appreciation.

I loved it. Not because it won Oscars and not because it’s directed by a woman, but because it was a great war movie that actually made me interested in watching some more war movies. I think the break I’ve had from the genre has lasted long enough.

As a side effect, all this exposure must have cured my bomb scene phobia. Next time I’ll watch someone risking their lives tempering with a bomb, it will just be another day at work.

Now to find some way to deal with my spider hang-up….

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, US, 2009) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

December 23, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in The Hurt Locker

14 Responses

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  1. If you figure out how to deal with your arachnophobia, please let me know–I suffer from the same thing.

    I haven’t seen The Hurt Locker yet, although I am curious. About six months ago, one of my students asked me if I had seen it. He is an Iraqi War vet, and told me that he hated this film because it was nothing like the reality that he experienced, and that Jarhead was a lot more realistic.

    Of course, having never been in a war, the military, or even fired a gun, I wouldn’t know either way.


    December 23, 2011 at 8:02 am

    • I can imagine that the more you know about the war from your own experience, the less will you like it. I guess that’s how it is if you know an area very well. It’s hard to disregard of the “errors” there inevitably will be. I still recommend it as a film. It had me hooked, which is quite an achievement considering how little I usually care for war movies and action and how uncomfortable I feel about bomb disarming on the screen.

      I’ll let you know about the spider thing if I come up with something!


      December 23, 2011 at 8:27 am

  2. It’s one of the best movies that I’ve seen in the last years, definitely worth watching.

    Kathryn Bigelow also directed the brilliant Strange Days. It’s another movie in a genre I wouldn’t expect woman to film: science fiction.


    December 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    • Bigelow also directed Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze goofy action film Point Break as well as the vastly underrated vampire western Near Dark.

      She does a lot outside of the “normal” realm for women directors.


      December 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      • I enjoyed Point Break but it’s not on the same level as Strange Days or the Hurt Locker.

        Haven’t seen Near Dark yet but it sounds interesting, I’ll have to see it one day.


        December 24, 2011 at 1:48 am

      • Vampire western? That sounds intriguing. I really need to check her out.


        December 24, 2011 at 9:24 am

    • I really need to watch that then. Not only did I love The Hurt Locker; I’m also a big fan of science fiction. As you probably know by now…


      December 24, 2011 at 9:20 am

  3. Wow, you aren’t kidding when you say that you don’t follow the academy’s choices… 😉 But it’s a testament to you stamina that you sat through it, phobias and all — I’m not sure I would do the same with an arachnofilia-movie.

    I did not really know what to expect from The Hurt Locker, but what I got I liked a lot — the tension, the atmosphere, the visual solutions. Even though Jeremy Renner (fairly or not, I can’t say) does not get the attention of, say, Gosling, he ususally delivers a solid performance and he was very good in this one.


    December 25, 2011 at 10:19 am

    • I can’t say that I’ve been following Jeremy Renner previously, but he was really perfect in this role. I loved your take on the movie,and your observation about how it resembled to something taking place in space.

      Re: the academy’s choices: to be honest I will probably pay a lot more attention this year now that I’ve started to blog about movies. I’ve changed my focus abit. And blogging in English and interacting so much with US folks, I want to see what they’re talking about so I can participate in the discussion.


      December 26, 2011 at 11:11 am

  4. It’s a pretty extraordinary film. It’s weird, back when this film came out Renner and Mackie were considered unknowns, and now they pop up in everything. Renner, especially, was fantastic. The film is so tense it was nearly unbearable. A little episodic perhaps, but it covers a lot of avenues of story – and brilliantly relays that the kill zone is not just within the radius of the bomb, but can be anywhere, including out in the middle of the desert. I have heard that it is unrealistic also, but a friend of mine, who worked in the army for a few years, and dealt with bombs, thought it was excellent. So, I’m not sure. I thought the film was great, personally.

    Andrew Buckle

    December 25, 2011 at 11:02 am

    • Glad to hear you too enjoyed it! When I did a quick checkup on what other people had thought about it, it appeared to me that it had become one of those movies that tips over the edge – first everyone loves them and then suddenly there’s a backlash and people start to claim it’s overrated. As with Juno.

      I missed all that though, went in to see it with fresh eyes and was happily surprised, finding an excellent movie.


      December 26, 2011 at 11:13 am

  5. I think that the expectations that film should be “realistic” is one of the saddest trends in cinema. It sets up an expectation that a film can almost never meet because, except for some documentaries, a film isn’t real. It is supposed to give those who haven’t had an experience a sense of the experience, but it isn’t supposed to be realistic. To assume realism is to set a film up to fail, and thus to lose sight of what benefits a film does bring.

    Yes, the more expertise one has one a subject, the more disappointed one would be on a film about that subject. A film is a distillation, an introduction to a subject, a way of communicating emotions more than facts. When I watch a movie about the Bible I am always disappointed, because the text is always more interesting than the film. But some films, like The Last Temptation of Christ, I can ignore the non-factual use of the text and just appreciate the film as it is.

    I wish that those vets could do that with The Hurt Locker. The film isn’t saying that everyone who disables bombs in a war is an addict to crisis– rather it is telling the story of this singular group of people who live in crisis daily and how they each respond to it differently. It gives us enough detail for us non-vets to be invested, but not enough for anyone to think that this is a real experience. It is a story, a well-told story, and is the most wonderful tension I’ve experienced in film for a long time.

    Steve Kimes

    December 25, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    • I couldn’t have put it better Steve. And as a matter of fact I think that if you pull the demands on having it “realistic” too far, you often will end up with a far worse movie. If realism is what you’re going for, a documentary is probably a better choice. But even those will never be objectively “true”, there’s always a certain angle to things that not everyone will agree on.


      December 26, 2011 at 11:15 am

  6. […] my interest for the director Kathryn Bigelow, which was raised by her Oscar award winning  The Hurt Locker, which was one of the most exciting films I’ve seen. I really need to check out her other […]

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