This week I saw two Iraq war films – Hurt Locker and Green Zone. Both left me with some negative impressions and I wanted to share. Here are a few initial objections to the material:
- Military personnel are portrayed as reckless and unprofessional.
- Plenty of agenda in both movies, no doubt tapping people’s frustration with war.
- In GZ the majority of the characters were morally corrupt.
- The biases in both films creates a very negative impression of our service men and women.
- Somehow everyone had time to party and grab ass (HL) and hang out in swim suits by the pool (GZ).
I am not saying all of our armed forces are morally grounded and professional but I think the vast majority of them are, there are bad apples in any group of people. I also think that many of the lapses and outrages such as Abu Ghraib have lacked real effort to understand root causes. Recently I listened to a recording of Philip Zimbardo on the psychology of evil that sheds a interesting light on root causes of the abuse at Abu Ghraib. His name may be familiar, he was involved in the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. I believe you will find his research very insightful particularly how we can prepare ourselves and our children to be prepared to act appropriately when facing stressful situations. I wrote a blog article about this issue last year on my old blog and recently brought it over to this blog after the Haiti quake. I should add Zimbardo’s work to that article.
The vast majority of US service men and women are extremely disciplined and professional. You would not get that impression by watching either of these films which is unfortunate.
So these movies could not be all bad, what did I like about them?
- HL used a technique that made me feel a sense of what the characters were feeling.
- Both films had dramatic suspense that really held on to my attention.
- GZ did include actual real mistakes that should be lessons we should learn from.
Alone and Isolated
As noted in Hurt Locker a cinematic style was used that made the characters seem very isolated and alone even when other support was present. This really made you relate to the sense of isolation and at times desperation the characters were feeling in these stressful situations. This really contributed to the dramatic effect that kept me riveted to the screen at times.
In Green Zone they definitely took the non-fiction as well as the fiction. One example was the lack of preparation to prevent the looting that occurred when US forces reached Baghdad. A more profound example was what I think most people now believe was a huge mistake – the disbanding of the Iraqi army. This list would not be complete without mentioning the mistake of bringing in an exile and propping him up to temporarily lead the country. It was useful to be reminded of and to have attention brought to these mistakes.
After I filter out the agenda and bias I can summarize my personal take away from these films. As we all know history has a way of repeating and people have a way of forgetting bad things, the two are clearly related. It also inspired me to re-visit Zimbardo’s work and an old article I wrote where I had identified the concept independent of his influence previously.
Support for Our Military Personnel
I want to give a big heart felt thank you to any past or present military personnel that happen to read this post. Thank you for your service.
Some other responses to these films:
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- ‘Green Zone’: Thrills Vie With Speechifying (online.wsj.com)
- Matt Damon Not Bourne Again In Green Zone (news.sky.com)
- CBS’s Smith Touts Anti-War Film ‘Green Zone’ As ‘Bourne Meets Hurt Locker’ (newsbusters.org)
- Bourne again (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Matt Damon’s War Film Green Zone Doesn’t Ring True (newsweek.com)
- Paranoid Anti-Military Movie ‘Green Zone’ Hailed by Top NY Times Movie Critic (newsbusters.org)
- The Hurt Locker, Point Break, and War Junkies (trueslant.com)
- The Hurt Locker And The Oscars (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)