When 'The Hurt Locker' was released in the United States on June 26, 2009, few noticed. A war fatigued media and general public mostly ignored the film, except for a few glowing reviews by film critics paid to see every movie, and an excellent segment by my former employer, CNN.com. Tonight, the movie completed its stunning journey to cinematic immortality, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.
As I have written before, war is not a movie. I have not had the honor of serving in the U.S. military, but I am almost certain that statement is correct. Some in the Armed Forces have mocked 'The Hurt Locker' for factual inaccuracies and dramatic liberties, and I will certainly not argue with a factually-based point made by a man or woman who has put their life on the line for our nation. Yet I will repeat what I told my wife after I first saw the film back in July: I felt like I spent two hours in Iraq while watching it. Even though the movie is fictional, I came away with an even greater respect for what U.S. troops go through in Iraq and Afghanistan on a daily basis.
To me, the key scene in Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning film (please do not continue reading if you haven't seen it) is when the fictional Sgt. 1st Class William James, played by Jeremy Renner, is shown making an almost impossible transition from Iraq's war-torn streets to a boring grocery store aisle. Regardless of any other scene in the movie, I hope the many people who will see it simply because it won the Academy Award take a moment to think about the adjustments our veterans have to make after coming home from wars they volunteered to fight.
'The Hurt Locker' is a non-partisan film. President George W. Bush, Sen. John Kerry, and the 2004 election are never mentioned in the film, which takes place in the heat of their campaign battle over war policy. And I don't think it's politically motivated to point out that a movie about the Iraq war won an improbable Oscar on the same day that Iraqis went to the polls in what many considered an unlikely exercise in democracy a few years ago, during the darkest days of the costly conflict. While U.S. troops in Iraq are still in danger and we cannot celebrate until they all come home, tonight is a night for us to be proud of the military. To all of you who serve so us ordinary Americans can sit at home and watch Hollywood congratulate itself at this time each year: Thank you. It doesn't take a gold statue for most Americans to realize that you are second to none.