The Hurt Locker opens with a

“The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”

This opening quotation for The Hurt Locker (2008) summaries the main idea of the movie. This quotation from War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a best-selling 2002 book by New York Times war correspondent and journalist Chris Hedges.

The movie is about the experiences of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit in the early stages of the US occupation of Iraq in 2004. More about the story here. The title is slang for being injured in an explosion, as in ‘they sent him to the hurt locker.’ Bomb disposal is a very dangerous job and demands courage, knowledge and expertise from its practitioners. This is even more demanding in a post ‘war zone’ in Iraq where one does not know who is an enemy and who is not. It is nerve-wrecking just sitting through the movie and watching the actors in such situations. The movie is well paced and the actors are superb in their acting.

The concept that war is a drug may come as a surprise to some. It is not war itself but that war provides the opportunities for a being in a dangerous situations where fast actions and reactions are required. This is the adrenaline rush. These adrenaline rush where all our senses are sharpened, where we are in flight or fight mode, and where our mortality is at risk, is what some combatants describe as being ‘fully alive.’ Similar adrenaline rush are experienced by firefighters, police, doctors and rock climbers (and first person shooter computer gamers). And these adrenaline rush are addictive. The rest of living became mundane and boring by comparison.

Like all addiction, we can develop tolerance and need more and more of the drug to give the same high. The soldier in the movie portrayed an addiction to the adrenaline rush. And what happens when his tour of duty is over? Where does he get his fix then? Also as in all addictions, other people may be hurt. The theme of addiction to the adrenaline rush in wars is seldom addressed in movies where the maxim seems to be “war is hell” and “let’s show more of it.” This thought provoking movie is about what is happening to the soldiers in ground zero of a warzone.

The question then arises on how do we treat the veteran adrenaline rush addicts? This reminds me of the movie The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalyse Now (1979) which deals with a similar issue by showing the consequences of this addiction.