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Research Project Pitch


Okay, so, for my paper I think I want to look at The Hurt Locker from a film genre perspective.  I need to do more reading on the whole concept of genre, natch (and I have to watch the film again, double natch), but I want to take a look at how it fits into the war movie genre, how it deviates from the genre’s conventions and, you know, what all that means.

Again, I need to do more reading about genre in general, and war movies in particular, but here’s my pre-preliminary thoughts on the matter:

1. The war movie as bildungsroman

Traditionally, war films follow a neophyte as he (and it’s nearly always a he) becomes initiated into the culture of war, and, by doing so, he also becomes a man.    The Hurt Locker doesn’t seem, at least on the surface, to follow this convention.  Why not?  Is this a comment on the genre?  Or is there a coming of age story in this film, just presented in a different way?

On a related note, the war movie also traditionally features an FNG, either as the protagonist or a sidekick, through which the audience is initiated into the culture of war.  Does The Hurt Locker have this? (That’s an honest question, actually. I don’t remember.  Like I said, I’ll have to watch it again.)  What does it say if there isn’t?  If there is, is the convention altered or treated differently?

Similar to the bildungsroman:

2. The war movie and masculine identity

The war movie traditionally (I feel like I’m going to be writing “traditionally” or “conventionally” an awful lot in this post, so from now on, when I write “war movie,” just read “traditional war movie”) involves bringing a character (normally the protagonist) into a community of manhood, as the film’s definition of masculinity is constructed through the actions of the characters.

The Hurt Locker is kinda all about what it means to be a man, was it not?  For one thing, there’s hardly any women in the thing, so all the relationships in it are homosocial (if not homosexual).  And there’s a lot of arguments about The Right Thing To Do, which could be read as an ethical discussion, but in the context of the film they feel like they’re more about what it means to be a man.  (This is all, perhaps, complicated by the fact that it was directed by a woman, a lamentably rare situation)  What is the film saying about being a man?  Are there similar comments being made on masculinity in other, contemporary war movies?  Are there not?

And continuing on with the related notes,

3. The segregation and gendering of space in the war movie

There’s normally a clear division between the feminine-gendered domestic world and the masculine-gendered battlefield in war movies.   This is pretty unmistakable in The Hurt Locker.  Are there any riffs on this convention, though?  Do other contemporary war movies do this to the same degree?

4. Political Messaging/Propaganda and the war movie

God, that’s a pretty general/useless bullet point description, right?  Ok, but here’s what I’m getting at- war films traditionally (there’s that word again) had an overt political message, from the hawkish Sands of Iwo Jima to the dovish Paths of Glory.  And while it’s impossible to create a movie without some sort of political message, The Hurt Locker doesn’t spell its message out for the audience.  The word “apolitical” has been used to describe it (for instance, here’s a Reuters article), and while that’s poppycock, there does seem to be a downplay of the politics of the real war in Iraq.  Do other Iraq/OIF/GWoT movies treat politics similarly?  What does it all mean?

There are lots of other things to look at, of course.  The Individual vs. the Unit.  The Othering of the Enemy (or, in this film’s case, the complete invisibleness of the enemy).  The emphasis on “Authenticity.”  The emphasis on going home. Experiments with nihilism. On and on and on.  I’ll obviously need to focus my research and try to get to some sort of thesis by concentrating on one or two or maybe three of these points and try to come to something meaningful/interesting to say about the text.  But the movie’s new, right?  And it’s popular and respected and, ya know, important, mebbe?  So maybe I can come up with something worth reading about it.

As for taking it on from a genre perspective, that basically means watching a lot of other films, right?  So here’s some I can think of (Wikipedia lists 30 films about the Iraq War.  I won’t be watching nearly that many.):

  • Green Zone
  • Generation Kill (not really a film. Ruling?)
  • Jarhead
  • Three Kings (older, maybe not so relevant.  Maybe for contrast)
  • The Kingdom
  • Stop-Loss
  • Grace is Gone
  • In the Valley of Elah
  • Black Hawk Down
  • Brothers
  • Homecoming (also maybe not a film.  Almost certainly not a war movie. But Joe Dante! )
  • Home of the Brave
  • Flags of our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Rambo IV (god help me)

Ok, so, like I said, I’m not gonna watch all these.  But once I focus my thesis I can choose which ones I should zero in on.  And I can be convinced that it might bear more fruit to look at The Hurt Locker as an entry in a different genre. Like, are the films about the wars in the Middle East our new westerns, with gunmen bringing order, law and “civilization” to the untamed, “savage” frontier (does the word “savage” even need quotes around it anymore?  Is it ever used unironically?  I mean, of course, outside of the New York Post?)?  Is Moktada al-Sadr the new Chief Cicatriz?  Is Donald Rumsfeld the new Tom Doniphon? Or the new Sentenza?  I mean, the wars were started by a shit-kicking cowboy, right?

But I think I want to focus on The Hurt Locker and I’m pretty sure I want to look at it as a war movie.  I only have questions at this point, but I think that’s a good thing, right?

Oh, jeez, I just looked back on the syllabus and saw this was supposed to be a pitch, instead of a rambling bout of nonsense.  Ummm, did I sell anyone on it?

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