#TypesTuesday – The Hurt Locker & Power of Idealism
Kathryn Bigelow has a new film, Detroit, being released now. The biggest criticism of the film so far is the lack of a strong central protagonist. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the film yet myself but will write about it soon.
In her previous film, The Hurt Locker, Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) is a memorable Power of Idealism protagonist. He has a cocky, shoot-from-the-hip, iconoclastic style in defusing roadside explosives. These deadly bombs are hidden in the sand, in cars, and in the occasional corpse. He has techniques that are all his own as he travels through the gutted terrain of Iraq ravaged by war, poor planning policies, and the smash-and-burn fury of local insurgents.
Characters driven by the Power of Idealism want to stand out from the crowd, to be extraordinary, unique and special. They are rebels, iconoclasts, mavericks, and artists of all kinds.
Power of Idealism characters are intense, passionate and rebellious. Everyone in the story immediately recognizes and acknowledges that their role is somehow heroic or “larger than than life.” They don’t play by anyone else’s rules.
Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) in The Hurt Locker is a quintessential Power of Idealism character. He is intense, cavalier and is moving swiftly toward becoming a legend. In this exchange, his reputation grows:
Colonel Reed: You the guy in the flaming car, Sergeant James?
Staff Sergeant William James: Afternoon, sir. Uh, yes, sir.
Colonel Reed: Well, that’s just hot shit. You’re a wild man, you know that?
Staff Sergeant William James: Uh, yes, sir.
Colonel Reed: He’s a wild man. You know that? I want to shake your hand.
Staff Sergeant William James: Thank you, sir.
Colonel Reed: Yeah. How many bombs have you disarmed?
Staff Sergeant William James: Uh, I’m not quite sure.
Colonel Reed: Segeant?
Staff Sergeant William James: Yes, sir.
Colonel Reed: I asked you a question.
Staff Sergeant William James: Eight hundred seventy-three, sir.
Colonel Reed: Eight hundred! And seventy-three. Eight hundred! And seventy-three. That’s just hot shit. Eight hundred and seventy-three.
Staff Sergeant William James: Counting today, sir, yes.
Colonel Reed: That’s gotta be a record. What’s the best way to… go about disarming one of these things?
Staff Sergeant William James: The way you don’t die, sir.
Colonel Reed: That’s a good one. That’s spoken like a wild man. That’s good.
A. O. Scott, writing for the New York Times describes James like this: “Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) is something else, someone we recognize instantly even if we have never seen anyone quite like him before. He is a connoisseur, a genius, an artist.”
The artistic temperament— and the yearning to be “something more extraordinary” creates a white hot intensity of feeling in these characters. In contrast, long-term relationships and the comfortable companionship that committed loving couples (and families) share seem suffocatingly pedestrian.
Power of Idealism characters, operating in their Dark Side, are unprepared to make the ordinary, small, everyday sacrifices real long-term every-day love requires, especially when there are children involved.
In this exchange James explains to his infant son:
Staff Sergeant William James: You love playing with that. You love playing with all your stuffed animals. You love your Mommy, your Daddy. You love your pajamas. You love everything, don’t ya? Yea. But you know what, buddy? As you get older… some of the things you love might not seem so special anymore. Like your Jack-in-a-Box. Maybe you’ll realize it’s just a piece of tin and a stuffed animal. And then you forget the few things you really love. And by the time you get to my age, maybe it’s only one or two things. With me, I think it’s one.
Staff Sgt. William James wants to live fast, die young, and leave a legend behind. He simply cannot find the extraordinary in ordinary family life. He must follow the adrenaline rush, upping the level of risk, and taking ever more dangerous chances.