No. 3

STONE the crows. A film about the occupation of Iraq that does not present the Americans as imperialists, and only in it for the oil!

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is less about the occupation of Iraq than a US army bomb disposal team working there. The Iraqi characters are either victims or shadowy terrorists and there is no mention of why the Americans are in the country. But while she takes no stand on the justice, or otherwise, of the war the foundation of her film is that the Americans on the ground who are charged with helping ordinary Iraqis take appalling risks in doing their jobs.

It makes a change from the presentation of American soldiers in Avatar, made by Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron. There is no doubting that this epic of inanity is a triumph of imagination and computer programing, with three-dimensional dragons, floating mountains and enough feel-good environmentalism to make deep green activists pinker than usual with pleasure. But the ideas underpinning its extra-special effects are the old-fashioned orthodoxy that holds all soldiers (except the ones who go over to the freedom fighters) are brutes and that nothing good can ever come from contact between technologically advanced cultures and people in static, if ever-so spiritual societies.

Avatar uses similar ideas to Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner’s interminable 1990 western about a US army officer who goes over to the Indians at the end of the Civil War,  just as the push to colonise the great plains gathers pace.  There is certainly a great deal of propaganda about the superiority of living in harmony with the environment in both films, although they both ignore the way such societies are generally caste based, perpetually at war with their neighbours and that invaders always find allies among the warring tribes.

But the shadow of Iraq also envelops Avatar. The brutal military will stop at nothing to secure a vital mineral (called, in the film’s only joke, “Unobtanium”). They use “shock and awe weaponry” to suppress the native people, who only have their environmental faith (plus dragons and sentient trees) on their side and just want to be left alone to live without electricity or flushing toilets.

The error in the analogy is that the war to remove Saddam Hussein was never about seizing Iraq’s oil, which the Iraqis are now selling to the highest bidder. Once the dictator was removed the last thing the American army wanted to do was hang around. The fact they had to was due to the Bush administration’s disgraceful failure to plan for the aftermath of the war, when Saddam’s loyalists and opportunist extremists who hated the idea of Iraq becoming a democracy used terrorism to try to start a civil war.

The penultimate scenes of The Hurt Locker make the point in one of the most confronting parts of a tense and unsettling film. Certainly Ms Bigelow makes it clear that ordinary Iraqis hate the Americans for the horrors that removing Saddam unleashed. But she does not duck the obvious fact that it is the US army and Iraqi police who are trying to protect the country from bombers who do not care who they kill.

Ms Bigelow’s film looks set to do well at the Oscars but it has no hope of doing the business of Avatar. To an extent this is because of its subject, the constant tension makes The Hurt Locker an exhausting film to watch. But it is also a film that will not appeal to people who assume that the US is an imperial power, oppressing Iraq in the 21st century in the same way it dispossessed the original owners of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Which is one of the reasons why Avatar is such an enormous success and why the critics are so kind to a film, which goes on and on. There is an enormous audience that assumes the military are always monsters and anything the US does is automatically evil. Mr Cameron has an extraordinary imagination and the technology in Avatar has probably changed filmmaking forever. But as a political platform there is no substance to his ideas. For all Avatar’s amazing effects it has the moral complexity of a cartoon.

STONE the crows. A film about the occupation of Iraq that does not present the Americans as imperialists, and only in it for the oil!

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is less about the occupation of Iraq than a US army bomb disposal team working there. The Iraqi characters are either victims or shadowy terrorists and there is no mention of why the Americans are in the country. But while she takes no stand on the justice, or otherwise, of the war the foundation of her film is that the Americans on the ground who are charged with helping ordinary Iraqis take appalling risks in doing their jobs.

It makes a change from the presentation of American soldiers in Avatar, made by Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron. There is no doubting that this epic of inanity is a triumph of imagination and computer programing, with three-dimensional dragons, floating mountains and enough feel-good environmentalism to make deep green activists pinker than usual with pleasure. But the ideas underpinning its extra-special effects are the old-fashioned orthodoxy that holds all soldiers (except the ones who go over to the freedom fighters) are brutes and that nothing good can ever come from contact between technologically advanced cultures and people in static, if ever-so spiritual societies.

Avatar uses similar ideas to Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner’s interminable 1990 western about a US army officer who goes over to the Indians at the end of the Civil War,  just as the push to colonise the great plains gathers pace.  There is certainly a great deal of propaganda about the superiority of living in harmony with the environment in both films, although they both ignore the way such societies are generally caste based, perpetually at war with their neighbours and that invaders always find allies among the warring tribes.

But the shadow of Iraq also envelops Avatar. The brutal military will stop at nothing to secure a vital mineral (called, in the film’s only joke, “Unobtanium”). They use “shock and awe weaponry” to suppress the native people, who only have their environmental faith (plus dragons and sentient trees) on their side and just want to be left alone to live without electricity or flushing toilets.

The error in the analogy is that the war to remove Saddam Hussein was never about seizing Iraq’s oil, which the Iraqis are now selling to the highest bidder. Once the dictator was removed the last thing the American army wanted to do was hang around. The fact they had to was due to the Bush administration’s disgraceful failure to plan for the aftermath of the war, when Saddam’s loyalists and opportunist extremists who hated the idea of Iraq becoming a democracy used terrorism to try to start a civil war.

The penultimate scenes of The Hurt Locker make the point in one of the most confronting parts of a tense and unsettling film. Certainly Ms Bigelow makes it clear that ordinary Iraqis hate the Americans for the horrors that removing Saddam unleashed. But she does not duck the obvious fact that it is the US army and Iraqi police who are trying to protect the country from bombers who do not care who they kill.

Ms Bigelow’s film looks set to do well at the Oscars but it has no hope of doing the business of Avatar. To an extent this is because of its subject, the constant tension makes The Hurt Locker an exhausting film to watch. But it is also a film that will not appeal to people who assume that the US is an imperial power, oppressing Iraq in the 21st century in the same way it dispossessed the original owners of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Which is one of the reasons why Avatar is such an enormous success and why the critics are so kind to a film, which goes on and on. There is an enormous audience that assumes the military are always monsters and anything the US does is automatically evil. Mr Cameron has an extraordinary imagination and the technology in Avatar has probably changed filmmaking forever. But as a political platform there is no substance to his ideas. For all Avatar’s amazing effects it has the moral complexity of a cartoon.

'2012