Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that runs through our military system and is often vastly overlooked. It is a little-known mental health problem that is poorly understood. It can be traced back to the times of the Civil War and has been given names like shell-shocked syndrome, PTSD, soldier’s heart, and combat fatigue. A soldier who has experienced combat or military exposure of any level of severity can be susceptible to this anxiety disorder and its symptoms. The Hollywood film The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, depicts the American soldier’s battles with PTSD and shows how drastic its effects can be.
There is a whole other world between life on the battlefield and life on the home front. PTSD began to turn up on the public’s radar in the past decade due to the growing numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking treatment for the illness. Victims of PTSD do not show any physical problems, which is often why family, friends, and military personnel can overlook the disorder. Returning veterans often show signs of PTSD by isolating themselves from friends and family, spending a lot of time alone, and using alcohol or drugs to cope with the emotional pain.
Bad memories of the traumatic event haunt the victim and make them think, “why can’t I function right now” (The Soldier’s Heart”). In recent years, with US invasions in the Middle East, the military is facing scrutiny for not doing enough to warn, prepare, and force soldiers to get help. The Hurt Locker is an award winning film that depicts the trials of an Army bomb-disposal unit in Afghanistan. It shows the struggles and stresses that each soldier in the unit has to face on a day-to-day basis in explicit, pain staking detail. Every day they go out to do their job could be their last.
Any of the events that these soldiers go through could end up triggering an anxiety disorder while they are in the field or once they have returned home. Specialist Owen Eldridge is one of the main characters and is already showing signs of PTSD at the beginning of the film. His mannerisms give away that he is battling with something internally and he is regularly meeting with a doctor. In one of his meetings he talks about his anxiety being the worst when he is holding a gun. He describes how with one pull of the trigger he can save one of his fellow soldier’s lives and also end the life of some else.
This scene foreshadows a future event in the film because Eldridge is faced with the exact situation in which he described. When his unit is being held down in the desert from concealed sniper fire, he witnesses enemy movement on the train tracks behind them. Forced with the decision to shoot or be shot at, he makes the decision to shoot and kill the enemy before he actually showed signs of aggression. It ended up being the right call but it’s easy for the viewer to see the distress and panic Eldridge felt through his eyes.
Matters for him get worse when the doctor he had been seeing is killed right in front of him by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). He had previously explained to the doctor that he did not know what it was like when they were out in the field. The then doctor decided to go out with them on their next mission and was killed in the process. Eldridge was so shocked with his death that, even though he saw him die right in front of him, he kept asking his unit where he was and that yelling that they need to find him. Events similar to these could be responsible for future emotional problems like the ones related to Marine Captain Scott Sciple.
He received three purple hearts and one gold star for his duties in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was cleared for a fifth tour of duty by the marines and during his stay home he was involved with a car accident in which he killed the other driver. Sciple registered a BAC three times the legal limit. His lawyer is going to present an insanity defense and claims that he suffers from symptoms of PTSD. Marine Corps investigators are now recommending the corps “be more thorough in evaluating and treating post-traumatic stress disorder, especially marines with brain injuries” (“Could Timely PTSD Treatment Have Prevented a Tragedy? ). After viewing scenes involving Specialist Eldridge it is easy to sympathize with veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Not only experiencing but also reliving these events takes such a toll on the human mind that everyday life becomes a living nightmare (ShelfLifeTV). If the face of Owen Eldridge was on an accused suspect’s file, it’d be difficult not to feel it wasn’t his fault. Another main character from The Hurt Locker who shows a connection with this political discourse is Sergeant William James. He is the main focus of the movie and is hated but respected by almost everyone.
He is the badass of the film who does everything his own way, without help from anyone else, and gets the needed results. He is portrayed as the “perfect soldier” because he shows no weakness and puts his life on the line even when he does not have to. There were only a few scenes in the film where he shows any sign of emotion, one of which was when he saw a familiar boy lying dead on a table. The boy had a bomb wired through the internal organs of his body and James thought it was the boy he played soccer with at base camp.
James was hurt by this incident because he was so fond of the boy and saw that he was tortured and killed. Even though nothing would come of it, James dismantled the bomb that was wired inside the boy’s body and carried him out of the building. James wanted to make sure the boy received a proper burial. He even went out of his way to try and find the people who had done this to him. Later in the film, James runs into the same boy whom he thought was murdered and recognize that the dead body belonged to someone else. He views his mistake as an unnecessary sign of weakness and completely ignored the boy from that point on.
This incident shows the viewer that even though Sergeant James was the toughest soldier in the unit, he too showed signs of emotional distress. The fact is that no matter how great of a soldier you are, “no one comes back from combat unchanged” (“The Soldier’s Heart”). The Hurt Locker reveals that PTSD can come in many different forms and affect soldiers in different ways. Throughout the whole film James is portrayed as a man of no fear and the “perfect soldier” but towards the end of the film we see his struggles with PTSD and living at home away from the battlefield.
Director Kathryn Bigelow is trying to show viewers how much of a traumatic experience PTSD is. During his time in the battlefield we have been viewing James with admiration and respect for his sheer bravery, and then we see him become extremely uncomfortable shopping for groceries. In another scene back home, we see James feeding his small son. Between mouthfuls, James is talking to the boy, with a mixture of agony and anxiety, a father wanting to impart a truth to his son that the boy is far too young to apprehend. “You love playing with that, “ James says. “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…and by the time you get to my age maybe it’s only one or two things. With me I think it’s one. ” These are two very powerful scenes that move us as viewers as we pick up on the intensities of PTSD and Sergeant James’ struggles and how he is psychically and mentally tied to his job in the army. As previously discussed, Bigelow uses Specialist Owen Eldridge’s character to portray PTSD in a different light. Whereas James shocks us Eldridge gains our sympathy.
Throughout the majority of the film he is dealing with PTSD and Bigelow wants to make this crystal clear. His body language displays an extremely nervous demeanor while his regular check-ins with the local army doctor confirms any second thoughts on whether the young soldier has PTSD or not. Specialist Eldridge is accidently shot in the leg by friendly-fire during in a rescue effort by James and Sanborn. When asked if he is okay he simply repeatedly shouts “Am I dead?! Am I dead?! Am I dead?! ” The sounds of panic and terror in his voice are overwhelming and we can help but feel the deepest sympathy for the young soldier.
As viewers we now view PTSD with a different eye. The fact that two of the three main characters that we grow so close to are so heavily impacted by the disorder causes us to generate a strong concern for others in the real world that suffer like these characters do. In an online interview with Shelf Life TV, we are introduced to a WestPoint graduate and highly decorated former Army-Ranger Captain Nate Self. Self received both a bronze and silver star as well as the Purple Heart for his efforts at the famous rescue at Roberts Ridge.
In the interview Captain Self reveals that he himself was diagnosed with PTSD and he explains how his life was after returning home from the battlefield. “I felt disillusioned and couldn’t relate to anyone around me. I had problems with anger. I was hyper vigilant, I was paranoid, afraid that someone was trying to kill one of my family member, or myself” (ShelfLifeTV). He goes on to say, “I saw the person I’d become outside the army was someone different, and I grew to hate that person, very quickly. I reached the point where I wanted to kill that person”. ShelfLifeTV) Hearing the truths of PTSD from an accomplished American soldier and their struggles after leaving the battlefield really puts the disorder in perspective. The Hurt Locker helps to understand the disorder and how it effects today’s soldier in an accurate and truthful light. Studying the film and learning of circumstances that people such as Captain Self go through, we can truly understand the hardships and drastic, dramatic effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Gavett, Gretchen. “Could Timely PTSD Treatment Have Prevented a Tragedy? | The Wounded Platoon | FRONTLINE | PBS. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. PBS, 26 Sept. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. . Gavett, Gretchen. “”Web Therapy” for PTSD? | The Wounded Platoon | FRONTLINE | PBS. ” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. PBS, 9 Sept. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. . “Interview with Nate Self, Author of Two Wars”- ShelfLifeTV. June 3, 2008 The Hurt Locker. Dir. Kathryn Bigelow. Perf. Jeremy Renner. Voltage Pictures, 2008. DVD. The Soldier’s Heart. Dir. Raney Aronson. Perf. Will Lyman. PBS: Frontline, 2005. “What Is PTSD? – National Center for PTSD. ” NATIONAL CENTER for PTSD Home. United States Department of Veteran Affairs. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. .