Shoot Shoot, Bang Bang

The visceral cinema of Kathryn Bigelow ’79SOA has heady theoretical roots.

by Paul Hond Published Winter 2009-10
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She’s acting out desires. She represents what people want to see, and it’s upsetting, because they don’t exactly know what to do with it.

— cultural theorist Sylvère Lotringer

Bigelow, center, on the set of The Hurt Locker. Screenwriter Mark Boal is at far left.

Baghdad, 2004. An explosive ordnance robot rolls along a dusty city street toward a pile of white burlap sacks. Soldiers, American, leap from armored vehicles, cradling their M16s. They must evacuate the women, children, and old men, who could be killed or maimed if they don’t move faster. Cars race past, horns blaring. Soldiers yell and push. Closer to the kill zone, three members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit — Thompson, Eldridge, and Sanborn — huddle around a monitor, watching the feed from the robot’s camera. Sanborn controls the robot by moving small joysticks on a board. The robot’s pincer grasps a snatch of burlap and slowly parts the material, revealing the head of a dark gray bomb. “Hello, mama,” Sanborn says.

The team calls the robot back and hitches a small wagon to it with a payload of charges to detonate the device. The robot goes off again on its miniature-tanklike tread. As it bumps over a pile of rocks, the rickety little wagon falls apart. Shit. Now Thompson has to go down there and lay the charges himself. Thompson, who has the heroic jawline of an aging quarterback, is the leader, the guy who wears the 100-pound steel-plated bomb suit and the helmet and gets up close to the deadly thing and touches it. His buddies zip him up, set his helmet firm, and wish him well.

Thompson walks toward the pile, breathing heavily in the desert heat. There are sand-colored buildings, burnt-out cars.

Above, a shuddering helicopter crosses the sun. Eldridge and Sanborn cover Thompson from a distance, scanning the windows and storefronts through the scopes of their rifles. Thompson reaches the bags, kneels before them. Slowly, delicately, he lays the charges. Then he straightens up, turns, and begins walking back toward Sanborn and Eldridge and the Humvee.

Suddenly, Eldridge sees something. He looks through his scope: there, across the road, in front of a butcher’s shop, amid the skinned animals strung up in the heat, is a man in a white smock, and he is holding something. A switch flips inside Eldridge: “Sanborn!” he yells, and runs toward the shop. “Butcher shop, two o’clock, dude has a phone!” The man in the smock waves, smiles, the picture of innocence, but Eldridge is locked in. “Drop the phone!” he shouts, sprinting now. Sanborn, in pursuit, calls, “Burn him, Eldridge! Burn him!” But there’s no clear shot, and the man pushes the buttons, and we then see Thompson running in his bulky suit, still within the zone, and the ground behind him erupts in a gush of pewter gray, and you cover your eyes as Thompson, our quarterback, is blown forward in slow motion, and the earth spews skyward like a volcano.

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