[Yours truly, doing push-ups on the very spot where "Zack Mayo," portrayed by Richard Gere, had to do them in the film An Officer and a Gentleman. It was filmed near us, at Fort Worden, in Port Townsend, WA.]I was telling a fiend today about the two best films I've seen recently, The Messenger and The Hurt Locker, and he asked if they are "antiwar films." I had to say "no." They certainly are not pro-war films. But to their credit, neither film is a preachy anti-war polemic. They let our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan speak for themselves. In the manner of the best imaginative recreations of past wars, these two films simply use the current wars as the backdrop for human drama. They depict ordinary human beings doing their best to cope with extraordinary pressure. In that respect, these films do more to call our current commitments into question than any overtly anti-war statement could do.
The Hurt Locker, in my opinion, is the better of the two. The portrayal of a young man who is addicted to living life in extremis, and who just can't come down from that high, certainly rings true in my experience. As Woody Allen says in one of his films, "When you know you can die at any moment, your life becomes terribly authentic." Ordinary life, as lived back here in "The World," can seem so shallow and phony compared to that terrible authenticity. The Hurt Locker's director, Kathryn Bigelow, obviously understands that pull and has done a great job bringing it to the screen. I could see The Hurt Locker winning best film at tomorrow night's Academy Awards.
I could likewise see Woody Harrelson winning best supporting actor tomorrow night for his role in The Messenger. He does a great job portraying an Army captain who has been only marginally successful in his career and whose bluster barely conceals his embarrassment at having drawn such a distasteful duty. He can also barely conceal his envy of the young combat veteran assigned to assist him in making casualty calls. They have their ups and downs, and they eventually have a somewhat predictable, drunken rapprochement. But I think it's still a fine film, especially since the captain's young sidekick, we learn, has some demons of his own. He wishes he had never has the experiences his captain yearns for.
The Messenger, I must confess, did strike a personally responsive chord in me. After Vietnam, I was stationed at Camp Lejeune with a fellow Vietnam veteran who had almost lost his left hand to a booby trap. He spent a year in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital undergoing a series of surgeries that would eventually restore full function and sensation to his hand. But, because he was ambulatory throughout much of his stay in the hospital, he was repeatedly assigned to accompany the bodies of enlisted Marines killed in action back to their hometowns. He would have to stay near the body, and be at the family's beck and call, until the funeral was over.
The stories he used to tell about those experiences appealed to my Vietnam-fueled sense of black humor at the time. Most of the families were OK, he told me; some were actually good to him. But others acted as if he had killed the dead Marine he had brought home. And there were occasional perks. He claimed to have bedded one casualty's little sister. In another case, he had to help break up a knock-down, drag-out, hair-pulling and clothes-tearing fight at graveside between the dead Marine's mother and wife over who deserved the guy's G.I. insurance.
It's a shame that I didn't keep a journal in those days. I'm sure he told me other stories that would have been worth sharing. --EFP