Maybe in a couple decades, there will be more movies made about the Iraq War. But for right now, there are so few probably because the war is too recent. The only movie made about the Iraq War that has actually gotten a lot of critical acclaim—and Academy Awards—is 2009’s “The Hurt Locker”. Directed by action director Kathryn Bigelow (the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar), “The Hurt Locker” focuses on a bomb squad in 2004 Baghdad and their new leader, seemingly obsessed with his job. A lot of people are divided about this film, mostly because… well, it’s an Iraq War action movie, but for me, this is one of the most powerful war films in recent years.
The movie starts with a team of soldiers in Baghdad made up of Sergeants J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), Private Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), and Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce). As they try to dismantle a bomb, Eldridge is too late to stop a local from setting it off, and Thompson is killed. So Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is sent in to take charge of the team. From the start, Sanborn sees that James is committed to doing what he was sent to do, but at the same time, James is almost laid back about it because he has been in the Army for a while, having already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But on the team’s first mission together, James seems a little too laid back for Sanborn and Eldridge to handle. He refuses to answer his radio when Sanborn tries to communicate with him, and when he approaches a civilian driving towards him, he comes very close to shooting him down. But he is able to dismantle the bomb, and another colonel praises James for his bravery. Sanborn and Eldridge, however, are a little worried, and their nerves get even higher on their next mission, when James goes to dismantle a car bomb without his bomb suit to protect him and throws his radio out the car window so he can work without hearing Sanborn. He again succeeds, but Sanborn gets angry with him.
The risks James takes only grow more and more while the soldiers work together. They meet up with some British soldiers who end up fighting with them against snipers in the desert. Many of the British soldiers are killed, but James and Sanborn are able to kill the snipers. The next day, the team finds the body of what James thinks is a local boy who recently sold him DVDs. The boy’s body is bloody, beaten, and filled with explosives. James is so scarred after taking out the explosives, he goes that night to find out who killed the boy. But his drawn-out search, which almost gets more civilians killed, is in vain, and it doesn’t help when James finds the actual boy he knew later on.
But after James forces Sanborn and Eldridge to go find the culprits of a suicide bombing one night, and Eldridge is shot in the leg and sent away to rehab, Eldridge lets James have it. In a profanity-laced rant before he flies off, Eldridge tells James that the only reason he was shot was because James sent him on that mission “to get his adrenaline fixed”. James seems to acknowledge this, and later that day, when he has to remove a bomb off a civilian’s chest, he is unable to do so and gets the civilian blown to pieces.
Months later, when James is sent home on leave, he tries to connect again with his wife and infant son but has a hard time adjusting back to that life. And near the end of the movie, when he sees his son playing with his baby toys, he reflects on what he’s become as he talks to his son:
JAMES: You love playing with all your stuffed animals. You love your mommy, your daddy. …You love everything, don’t you? But you know what, buddy? As you get older... some of the things you love might not seem so special anymore. …And the older you get, the fewer things you really love. And by the time you get to my age, maybe it's only one or two things. With me, I think it's one.
William James has become so obsessed with the rush of war and the intensity of dismantling bombs that the sensation has become the only thing that he cares about anymore. And when he goes back to Iraq to serve for another year, it’s almost as if that’s all that he will ever be able to do that can satisfy him. And even that won’t.
As a believer in Christ, I should always remember that God is the only One who can truly satisfy me. But as a sinful human being, I know that I am not at all perfect and can be led astray. And when I focus on devoting myself, or my day, or even one minute of my time, to something other than God, I become distracted from what truly matters. James, in the same way, was distracted by the sensation he got from doing his duty, to the point that it put his friends in danger.
But Jesus has the solution for people like him: in Matthew 11, he tells a crowd of people after he has denounced cities for their unbelief: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (11:28-30) Jesus is the only One who can bring me rest from the things that trouble my heart.
And my prayer for you today is that whatever may be distracting you from what God has called you to do, you would put that aside and let Him give you the rest that only He can give.