If you want to know what watching this movie is like, take that split-second rush of exhilaration and terror you experience when you stick your hand into the garbage disposal to get something and it comes on just as you withdraw your hand or when you're driving too fast and almost hit someone in a cross walk, then fill an Olympic diving pool with it, put on a lead suit and slowly lower yourself in until it closes above your head and all you're left with is that emotion and the sensation of sinking...endless, timeless sinking.
That is what watching The Hurt Locker is like. I've never experienced a film like this before, or anything else for that matter. As my incredibly disabled mind attempts to piece together enough of an explanation for the experience it just went through, I'll fill you in on the story.
Hurt Locker puts us in Bravo Company, a squad of bomb specialists stationed in Iraq to analyze, find and disable bombs before insurgents can set them off. We follow the three squad members through the last 36 days of their tour before they get to go home as they deal with situation after situation that makes you faint to even think about. It is a story we witness up close, as if we are the fourth member of the squad, and it is a story that melts any pretenses you had about war away like the face of a wax doll in a fire. And when the film takes you into the mental chasm that lies behind the wax you get the sense that you've never understood what a soldier deals with, never understood what war really is, never understood what it does to you. And more significantly, even after the pressure lock this movie puts on your head and heart, you leave it feeling outrageously empty because you know that the emotions you got from watching it are so puny compared to the reality that you could never possibly understand, never truly sympathize and never actually experience what it means to be in The Hurt Locker.
I wish I could convey what this movie is and where it takes you. It is another place. You become a soldier when you watch this film. There is a transition maybe 10 minutes in where you stop watching and start living it. Every second of every minute you are stressed out, wondering if the next moment is the last. Then you make it through that moment and you barely have time to exhale the breath you didn't realize you were holding because you have to get through the next one. Tighter and tighter you are wound, never relaxing, never releasing. By half way through the movie you start to question why you are still alive, why you and all the rest of the squad aren't dead, and it won't be until later that you realize you even had that thought. You start to asphyxiate at the smallest movement on screen, you become paranoid, you get angry in a heart beat. Eventually you start to become disgusted that you are still alive while so many other people have died. You start to feel completely helpless because the situation you're in is never changing hell that makes no progress in any direction - a perpetual state of extreme. But the scariest moment is when you reach the point where you can't imagine what life is like beyond this, when you start to become numb and start to enjoy the thrill because there isn't anything else beyond the thrill. The feeling is impossible to explain and impossible to survive.
Even now, almost 24 hours later, I have to suppress an overpowering, instinctual fear that creeps up on me periodically for no reason other than I have a lot of eyes on me. If you want a review of this film on its merits as a movie, I will say that the cinematography and style was amongst the most incredible I have ever seen. There are few films that succeed, or even attempt, to use every single shot to convey an emotion and take the audience out of the audience, and Point Break's Kathyrn Bigelow could have not done a more perfect job.
But in the face of what this film does to you, what does any of that even matter?