Thousands of people with loved ones deployed overseas won’t be seeing it, though, even if it did win best picture. They don’t need to. The people they love are fighting in the Middle East where their real-life vehicles are blasted into the air by skillfully planted IEDs, and where they’re trying their best to survive real firefights.
This particular audience will opt for something — anything — else. Something that doesn’t entertain with explosions and dismembered limbs encased in the telltale green of military ACUs, shredded and bloodied at the point of separation. Something that doesn’t have actors fake bleeding for cameras positioned far enough away from the Iraq border to stay safe from actual danger.
Because in real life, service members are dying — you can identify them by the shapes of their boxes under the cover of American flags.
In real life, the deployed are seeing friends bleed out and turn cold. They’re coming home psychologically damaged, their families now veritable strangers, the love they once had and tried to hold onto lost somewhere between over here and over there.
In real life, the people who love the real-life versions of those wacky, on-screen sketches of soldiers spend every day knowing this could be the day they find out the person they love most in the world has just been killed. Has just had both legs blown off. Has just been rendered brain damaged by a piece of shrapnel to the skull.
Every time a new war movie releases, we’re told it’s “the most realistic war movie since [insert title here].” Having never been to war myself, I rely on my husband, an Afghanistan and Iraq veteran, to tell me how much of what’s portrayed is accurate. (He says the best he’s seen is the HBO series “Generation Kill,” but because he was in the 101st Airborne Division, he’s also partial to the World War II miniseries “Band of Brothers”).
Most war movies can seem realistic enough to those who have no experience fighting in a war. They’re even realistic enough to those of us who have waited for the person we love to survive a war. More than realistic enough. And when we’re not waiting — when the person we love is beside us munching popcorn in the theater, and we’re happy because they’re here for us to thump on the arm and tell to eat quietly, please — the war movies are all right. Even good. But something is always missing from them.
In real life, the people left waiting are a larger part of the war story. Yet, you read and see little about them. As far as the viewing audience is concerned, those left waiting are generally okay. They may have moments of fear when a battle is documented by the news, sure. But their only true horror would be finding out there’ll be no homecoming, right? Because most deployed troops come home alive.
This is true. Most do come home alive, percentage-wise.
But many don’t. And every single person whose loved one is deployed wonders daily, “Will I be the one who gets the news? Someone has to get it. Will my love be the one who dies? Someone has to die.”
When my husband deployed to Kuwait in 2003 before major operations began in Iraq, he was living in the camp attacked with grenades by 101st soldier Asan Akbar.He wasn’t hurt, but I didn’t know that until he called me several hours later.
He was supposed to have been safe. Not only had the war not even begun, but he was in Kuwait, not Iraq. Lesson learned about war: anything can happen at any time, and the chances are greater at war that something will. A mortar, an RPG, an IED, a bullet, a kidnapping, a beheading, a grenade thrown by a fellow troop. Anything. Any second.
When you sit back to watch The Hurt Locker to determine whether you agree with its Oscar-worthiness, you’ll be reminded to give thought to those doing the real-life war fighting. Please let this be a reminder to also consider the people left waiting, the ones who start mourning the moment they say goodbye to the uniformed person they love.