It irks that Kathryn Bigelow's work bagged the honours at the Oscars though The Messenger was a smarter creation. After all, the brilliance of a film is in the storytelling, not in the story
Did the Academy not watch The Messenger, made at half the budget of The Hurt Locker, by a first-time Israeli director Oren Moverman?
The Messenger, like The Hurt Locker, is all about what the war in Iraq does to a soldier. But here's how The Messenger is smarter.
The Hurt Locker employs cheap thrills of sending its IED (Improvised Explosive Device) bomb specialist to defuse bombs in varying uncertain circumstances every few scenes, like an amateur film student who goes to the butcher's to film chicken on the chopping block just to make a hard-hitting comment about vegetarianism.
It takes very little intelligence to build tension because the soldier is a ticking human time-bomb, like the chicken at the coop.
As No Man's Land proved by winning the Academy award a few years ago with a similar explosive premise (or do we call it a device?). When a soldier lies on a mine, we obviously will watch the rest of the film to see if he survives.
The Hurt Locker plays out like a series of encounters with near-death, and we are riveted to it simply because the film caters to a basic voyeuristic need to watch a man flirt with death. And, Kathryn Bigelow is too experienced a filmmaker to falter in executing this rather simple manipulative explosive storytelling device.
The Messenger too could have followed the safe route by employing exactly the same structure.
In The Messenger, the protagonist has to diffuse a different kind of an explosive situation. He has to communicate the news of the death of the soldier to the next of kin who would react to it with varying uncertainty.
The writer-director chooses to break the routine early on trusting you to be smart enough to get the point and the film goes way beyond exploring the soldier's psyche, the impact of war on their loved ones and relationships, capturing the angst of the frustrated American soldier.
Neither Kathyrn Bigelow nor writer Mark Boal has any such respect for the audience. They continue to make the same point through each encounter with near-death till the very end of the film, sacrificing depth to preserve the integrity of the thriller.
The Hurt Locker hence becomes a much more crass, mass-pleasing manipulative drama that takes you to the edge of that butcher's knife every few scenes than say, even Avatar, which was beautifully layered and textured not just in form but also content.
Ironically, there was much more art in Avatar than in The Hurt Locker, that appealed to people from four to 84 at different levels. But, many could only understand what it meant to the four-year-old. Some called it a Pocahontas remake without really understanding the significant departures in the story. Has there ever been a film where the white man gives up the colour of his skin and is given a fresh shot of life by a woman every few scenes?
For many, films are still about stories and not about storytelling. Many are not aware of the ‘Monomyth'. Many believe that anything told with a handycam is real, and anything told with a 3D camera is a fantasy tossed up for children with a fancy for funny glasses. Fiction often goes deeper into truth than most reality.
Avatar was about a soldier's journey into becoming a hero by fighting for what is right and his transformation from the destroying raider to the preserving native.
The Messenger was about a soldier's journey into becoming human again by doing what is right and his transformation from a conformist to an individual.
The Hurt Locker, was well… an Improvised Explosive Device.
What if Kathryn had directed Avatar and James Cameron made The Hurt Locker? That would've made it two films on Iraq made by men and one epic fantasy made by a woman. And, Avatar may have won.
It hurts that the Academy ruled on the basis of sentiment (most of it generated due to the media hype of independent filmmaker Kathryn being studio-backed James Cameron's ex-wife) than merit, denying Quentin Tarantino a well-deserved award for Best Original Screenplay.
Kathryn Bigelow won. Sadly, for all the wrong reasons.
This report was updated on March 12