the hurt locker, the oscars, and redemption :: hazmat suits… and firemen?

March 8, 2010

When Katherine Bigelow got her second chance at the mic last night, shortly after winning “Best Picture” for “The Hurt Locker,” my wife and I were more than a little worried.

“Oh boy… oh, she’s… she’s in trouble.  She’s going over… Oh boy.  She’s in shock.”

She looked ill.  And unsteady on her feet.  Maybe it was the thrill of beating her ex-husband’s 3D box-office rain maker.  Maybe it was the backstage champagne kicking in.  But you can’t tell me she actually planned ahead of time to dedicate the Best Picture Oscar for 2010 to… um… “anyone who wears a uniform… guys in Hazmat suits… uh… firemen…”

That was funny.  Albeit a little freaky to watch in real time.  I was concerned that she was losing consciousness.  Or her mind.  But it was a nice gesture, even so.  Those hazmat suit guys never get enough love.  Am I right?

Katherine’s unsteady dedication speech parallels my wavering, uncertain appreciation for “The Hurt Locker.”  Although I’m actually not suggesting it shouldn’t have won.  Technically, it was an excellent film in many ways.  Well written, well acted, innovative camera work and awesome sound production.  I can appreciate the excellence of the craft – but does a “well-made” movie’s (well-arranged song, well-painted picture, etc.) technical prowess make it “good art.”

I got to the end of the film and… *spoiler alert*

I got to the end of the film and thought, “You know, this just wasn’t worth it.”  Where was the redemption in any of these characters we have just spent 2 hours getting to know?  There was plenty of gut-wrenching violence, alcohol abuse, sleazy talk and foul language.  Good acting, yes.  Good story-telling, yes.  But morally ambiguous “heroes” in a story with what, exactly, to say?  Where was the life-affirming message?  Or the elevating philosophical underpinning that lifts the viewer?  Go ahead, film critics – color me unsophisticated, but I do like my movies to have something true to say.  I like a smattering of redemption mixed with beauty to trump the chaos and heartbreak and bad choices our protagonists make on the road to somehwere better.

I like a story with a moral.

Not a very high-brow meter for judging art, huh?  I know.  That’s fine with me.  I’m not a film critic for a reason.  But I do have an internal “redemption meter” that is applied to every movie, song, play, or story I experience.  Bottom line for me?  If art reflects the best facets of life – relationships that matter, personal growth, redemption, love, beauty, and passion – it most likely will inspire thanksgiving in me.  Thanks to God, both for His blessings in my life and that He is a God of Redemption.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”  (Philippians 4:8)

At the end of the day, I want to spend my time carefully.  I don’t have a problem watching movies to unwind and escape for 90 minutes.  But I do want to be careful to “think about such things” that are beautiful, elevating, redeeming.  “The Hurt Locker” may be a masterful piece of art.  But it doesn’t elevate the soul.

I’d much rather settle in with my bride and a big bowl of popcorn to watch “UP!” again, and have my thoughts and spirit lifted higher…

How do you judge the value of art?  Where do you set the bar for what’s worth watching… and what can stay on the shelf at Blockbuster?


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

10 responses to the hurt locker, the oscars, and redemption :: hazmat suits… and firemen?

  1. Excellent post.

    It truly makes me question the use of time when I walk away from a movie feeling hollow. Using your verse, was it noble? was it lovely? So often society feeds us lies…emptiness. Now, I haven’t seen that movie, but I have seen movies where I wished I had used my time in a wiser manner. 24 hours. That’s all we have in one day. How are we going to use that equally-distributed gift? That’s the question. Even though a movie holds the title of “the best” it might not be the best and most honoring way to use our gift of time.

    And, yes, I thought she was going to pass out. I was waiting for a face plant off those stairs.


    • Thanks Rachel. I agree. I can’t believe she didn’t actually go over. I bet she’s going to watch herself on Tivo later, slap her forehead, and mutter, “Hazmat suits? Really?”

  2. Madeline Wishnick March 8, 2010 at 11:31 am

    I have not seen this movie because because it never crossed my mind that it would be an inspiring or uplifting work of art. Sometimes the harsh realities are not masks for underlying beauty or purity of heart.

    There are some films with messages that are not meant to hold our hands to inspiration. We must ignite our own spark and not become so lazy as to expect a movie to light it for us..

    Then again, I choose not to see “dark” films, but I know plenty of people who gain great perspective from witnessing such darkness..

    • Hi Madeline. Thanks for checking in. I agree with you when you say, “sometimes the harsh realities are not masks for underlying beauty or purity of heart.” I also agree when you say that we shouldn’t ask art to lead us to anywhere predetermined – that we must “ignite our own spark,” so to speak.

      I guess I am in process. I want to spend less time with art that dwells on the dark. I am hungry for more art that points to the light. And yet I DO see the value of art that reflects the dark, because it can expose truth that would otherwise be easy to ignore. But I believe there is value in exposing the darkness to the degree that it inspires us to redeem it somehow. If art reflects darkness for darkness’ sake, no thank you.

      At the end of the day, “The Hurt Locker” had opportunities to uphold or reflect really significant values. The relationship bonds between characters could have been written to reflect the value of brotherhood – of caring for each other. There was a moment near the end that could have been used to amplify the power and importance of family bonds. there were so many opportunities, in my opinion, for a little REDEMPTION. Instead… heaviness.

      I guess I wrote this for someone like you who maybe hasn’t seen “The Hurt Locker” yet. I expect several people will want to see it now that it has won best picture. As a Christ-follower, I’m just saying I don’t think the excellent storytelling in this case is worth the story.

  3. Yes, Bigelow looked like she was gonna fall over like Keanu Reaves off his surf board in Point Break.

    Personally, I would have been disappointed had the film wrapped with redemption. The film showed a flawed character struggling in almost every way with his life decisions. Clearly an expert, he seemed to be making increasingly reckless choices. The struggle seemed terribly honest to me. In the end, humans don’t always make “good” choices. He made the choice that he was equipped to make.

    I noted that he told his son that there was one thing that he loved. But I think what he really meant was that he disliked war the least.

    Good topic for discussion, Josh.

    • Hey Josh! Really good to hear from you!

      This is one of those topics where, to some degree, “I feel strongly both ways.” 🙂 I mean, “The Hurt Locker” was a remarkable film in many ways. And as you say, I agree that the struggles of the main character seemed to be very honest – very believable. And yeah, maybe this story just didn’t offer redemption because that wouldn’t be the most honest path for the character to take. Fair enough.

      I’m just asking myself some internal questions with this post, as well. Questions like, what is the value of art for entertainment’s sake? Is there value in dwelling on brokenness? Sometimes seeing art reflect darkness inspires ACTION, or a change of heart. There’s value in that. But I’m not sure where I draw the lines.

      Examples: I LOVED (and I mean REALLY loved) both “Doubt” and “No Country For Old Men.” Both were stories about flawed, dark, or troubled characters. In both cases, there wasn’t a rosy ending that tied everything up with a bow. For some reason the art and acting was just SO GOOD, the storytelling so honest, and the characters so real, they made me think deep thoughts – and enjoy the story along the way. Now I’m asking myself, why did I love those movies so much? What’s different about “The Hurt Locker?” I’m not sure I have those questions figured out yet.

      But I have resolved one thing… I won’t be renting “Saw VI” anytime soon. 🙂

      • I’m not sure what is different between the films, but I completely agree about the power of the characters in “Doubt” and “No Country…,” especially the latter. I liked “Hurt Locker” a lot, but I loved “No Country.” Perhaps it is simply that different characters ultimately speak differently to people.

        Have you read any of Cormac McCarthy’s novels? I’ve read a few—they are extremely dark, featuring morally questionable characters—and have had similar questions as you raise above. Particularly the novel “Child of God,” I just couldn’t feel like it was something I could recommend. On the farther extreme is “American Psycho,” which even I (who have a very high tolerance for twisted subjects) wondered why I had invested the time in reading about such despicable acts.

        Heh, BTW I am proud that I’ve never seen any of the “Saw” films! 😉


        • I’m trying to put my finger on it. What makes one film with dark subject matter or twisted characters worth watching, and another make me feel empty inside? I think for examples above, bot “Doubt” and “No Country” seemed to reflect on how darkness or human corruption affects other, “better” people. Affects society and community. But “Hurt Locker” seemed not only to reflect upon darkness, but to live there. I don’t know… Thinking about all of this.

          American Psycho = HORRIBLE and unnecessary. I’m with you.

          No, unfortunately my reading of fiction is limited to about 1 book per year. 🙂 My life is FULL of other great pursuits and people, so I only really dive into a good novel on vacation. And I’m a very slow reader. My “to be read” stack for non-fiction is about 15 books deep right now, as well. So, I’m not what you can accurately call a literature buff. I think the chance of me reading anything by Cormac McCarthy in the next decade is slim to none.

          The first SAW, by the way, was a clever premise and went beyond shock horror to examine some broader themes. (Still not worth it.) But as far as I can tell, the rest of the franchise is designed to milk a cash cow and unleash bile into the stream of societal well being. You’re doing well to stay away. 🙂 Take care, man. Thanks for the interaction here. Good to reconnect (And please say HEY to Judah from me if you remember to. It’s been a LONG time, and I have great memories of your brother.)

  4. I think the film and the character’s disconnection was an accurate reflection of a combat veteran in that situation – therefore I’m not unhappy it didn’t wrap up in a day-glo bright ending that made me feel warm and fuzzy – the trauma facing vets in that war is very real and I think the FoxNews rah rah rah crowd who championed that war from beginning to end have no idea what it’s like –

    I thought this was a pretty good assessment from a General who’s seen some of what they went thru

    • Hey Russ. This why I love social media and the interwebs. Good discussion with good people – and refining of my thinking.

      The article was very interesting – and yes, I can see “Hurt Locker” through that lens. Here’s where it shakes out for me… I think. I’m only growing stronger in my belief that this was a very well-made film. I do understand the “why” behind the character’s reckless behavior and disconnect from his family ties, etc.

      I’m just realizing that this story made me feel yucky. How’s THAT for some sophisticated analysis? 🙂 I think the world could use a little more honest, common-man shooting straight talk about art in general and about FILM especially. When all is said and done, I ask myself, “how does this story/song/painting/novel/movie make me feel?” And if the honest answer is “yucky,” I give it my common man’s thumbs down.

      Sometimes I choose to feel deep broken sadness. “Schindler’s List” comes to mind. “Saving Private Ryan” had me sobbing for about an hour. But they inspired deep thoughts about the value of life and human dignity. It’s different somehow. And now “The Hurt Locker” wins Best Picture and I’m forced (or at least feel compelled) to think again about what makes great art great. I think I’ve decided that “best” may in fact just be relative when it comes to pop culture and entertainment.