‘The Hurt Locker’ reveals American setbacks

Ways mental health viewed by institutions like military are influential for young people

TYLER WILEY, Evergreen columnist

The movie “The Hurt Locker” came out in 2009. But 12 years later, with the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the movie’s underlying themes about how the Armed Forces handle post-traumatic stress disorder are again relevant.

PTSD is defined as a broad response to many kinds of trauma, according to Military.com. Those with this stress disorder may experience symptoms right after a traumatic event, while others may experience them after certain triggers bring memories of a traumatic event back from the recesses of their mind.

With so many U.S. soldiers now returning home, many might find themselves in the same position the main character William James does. Whether it be reliving painful memories from war or PTSD from seeing death all around you, this movie nails its delivery of the realities of these experiences and what can happen to our minds as a result of them. 

It also brings up many questions about how Americans deal with mental health issues and trauma. Though it is over a decade old, some of the ideas and beliefs about mental health and trauma are still widely held by many American men. 

Much of this movie’s acclaim centered around its accurate depiction of war from a psychological perspective. 

This is a particularly important topic for those who continue to watch movies like “The Hurt Locker” and are influenced by its characters’ experiences with PTSD.

Some obvious symptoms of PTSD are present in the main character as a result of the conditions he lived in abroad. Defusing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that could easily kill him and his team, being shot at by snipers and seeing the deaths of innocent civilians are all traumatic experiences he relives as part of his PTSD. 

These conditions are not limited to James, however. The effects of traumatic events can be seen in the character Owen Eldridge, who feels responsible for the death of a comrade.

It is notable that Eldridge is the only soldier seen interacting with an army psychologist, which he does throughout the film.

There are certainly many elements of PTSD accurately depicted in the film, such as the attachment issues the character Staff Sgt. William James develops with own wife and child upon returning home, or the heavy drinking he and his team undertake, though this only is briefly depicted. 

His general demeanor throughout the film shows him as being rather flippant and reckless, especially in situations where he and his teammates could be killed. 

Other elements of PTSD are also depicted well, with the character, Eldridge, being depicted as very uncertain, afraid, angry and guilty in the immediate aftermath of his friend’s death. 

This is perhaps one of the movie’s strongest points. Depicting PTSD in a myriad of ways shows both the potential long-term effects of PTSD with James’ unhealthy coping habits.

Whether it be a character’s comfortability with traumatic situations or a lack of guidance in the wake of a friend’s death, the point of this movie’s focus on mental health seems to be that anyone can experience any of these symptoms. Whatever they may be, it is important to seek help.

Another tragically accurate element of the movie are the scenes that revolve around Eldridge’s character and an Army psychologist who attempts to help Eldridge through his grief. 

The psychologist’s belittling “advice” for Eldridge actually seems to blame him for his trauma instead of acknowledging the underlying causes for Eldridge’s feelings. 

Some of his other advice is that “going to war is a once in a lifetime experience” and “it can be fun.” In this scene, the psychologist turns into a shill for the Army and throws out 19th-century phrases that Army recruiters still use to bring young men into the often-damaging profession of being a soldier. 

The worst part of both of these scenes is that neither of them come off as inaccurate. It is quite easy to see real Army doctors giving this kind of advice to real soldiers who are struggling through PTSD or other mental illnesses. 

This movie shows a very real aspect of military life that not many of us see — the after-effects of war. Though we might not see the life-changing traumas of a war zone the way these soldiers do, our traumas are all equally valid.

While this film takes place in a military setting, it is important to remember that even in the civilian world, America has an unfortunately inadequate amount of mental health infrastructure in place.

With the return of many U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan, the lessons this movie teaches about how war affects its participants, particularly in the U.S., are once again relevant, with the severe lack of support for our soldiers at the forefront.