Katherine Bigelow’s 2010 multiple Academy Award winning war film, The Hurt Locker, follows Staff Sergeant William James, a rock star member of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit, who cannot get enough combat to quench his thirst for war. When William returns home after a year-long deployment in Iraq, he quickly finds himself longing for the daily firefights and bomb diffusing to fuel his adrenaline. Like an addict in need of a fix, he drags through life at home until he ultimately gives up his family and returns to the desert for another year.
It is difficult to find true objectivity in motion pictures. The fact that an individual or group must guide a story through the various phases of production - consequently inserting some aspect of their world view - is testament to this statement. Many documentaries are designed to advocate for specific ideas and viewers often assume the information they obtain through documentaries is more factual than fictionalized stories. In my opinion documentary contains much more bias than its counterpart, narrative fiction. The ability to craft a story with complete creative control affords a filmmaker the freedom to be as objective as their resources allow. You cannot force a subject in a documentary to say or do what you want without some sort of manipulation. You can, however, create a fictionalized character who reflects an assortment of viewpoints.
This is why Bigelow’s representation of war misses a great opportunity to provide audiences with a fair perspective of an interesting character in a very dynamic situation. Despite shedding light on a high risk and often underrepresented military position, the filmmaker sensationalizes war while trivializing the military veteran experience, mostly painting soldiers as careless wild men itching for the next opportunity to blow things up. This is a disservice to twenty percent of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans suffering from post traumatic stress and to the numerous families who are struggling to help these soldiers reintegrate into their homes after deployment. The real soldier's story does not end with a triumphant warrior marching confidently into the sunset.