The Loveless: “People live here? Is this a town or a truck stop?” Vance asks, questions ironically echoed in his later acknowledgement to his own gang that “we’re going nowhere fast.”

Near Dark: “The night is so bright; it will blind you,” Mae tells Caleb with wonder. 

Blue Steel: While Eugene excites Megan one evening with a god’s-eye-view of the city from a helicopter—the people below appearing as “little specks”—Megan that same night has a nightmare in which Eugene lets go of her and she hurtles from that helicopter to the ground below.  

Point Break: In a scene largely irrelevant to the plot, Johnny Utah engages in a momentary rush, free-floating and secure amidst family.

Strange Days: In contrast to the opening shot which cuts from the eye of a then unidentified person (Lenny) to a jacked in memory, the closing shot cranes upward from Lenny and Mace embracing but quickly lost in the confetti and the crowd surrounding them. The countdown of the new millennium begins.

The Weight of Water: On the stillness of Rich’s boat, Jean tells of how Thomas long ago remarked that their work as photographer and poet, respectively, are remarkably similar in that both are trying to stop time.

K-19: The Widowmaker: Captains Vostrikov and Polenin together with their surviving crew members recall at a cemetery many years later the frozen image of the entire crew as comrades then in celebration.




1. Robert Sklar’s review of The Hurt Locker, Cineaste, vol. 35, no. 1, p. 55. [return to page 1 of essay]


Plot summaries of Kathryn Bigelow’s films are set forth below. While beyond the scope of this essay on Hurt Locker, even a brief perusal of Bigelow’s filmography indicates the effect on her thematic concerns by such factors as the screenwriters and when each movie was made. Near Dark and Blue Steel, among her cleanest genre movies, are both early in her career and owe their writing credits to Eric Red. Point Break and Strange Days made a few years later develop more thoroughly the theme of doubles and the consequent sense of schizophrenia about life; James Cameron was the producer on the former and a credited co-screenwriter on the latter. The Weight of Water and K-19: The Widowmaker followed the commercial failure of Strange Days, and both are more traditional in their expression of Bigelow’s concerns, with Christopher Kyle a screenwriter on both.

The Loveless (1982)
Directors/Screenwriters: Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery

A motorcycle gang led by Vance (Willem Dafoe) rides into and stays a day in a small, Southern town. The gang hangs around the town diner, fixes one of their bikes at the local garage shop, and occupies time by target practice, drinking alcohol and other such activities. Vance sleeps with a townie. In the process the gang affects in some way nearly everyone in the town. The local waitress strips that evening at the local lounge. The garage owner’s son summons the courage to sit, if briefly, on a motorcycle. And the townie kills her father, the local bully who had molested her, and then commits suicide. Vance and his gang ride out of town.

Near Dark (1987)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriter: Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red

One night out west young Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is smitten with and later bitten by Mae (Jenny Wright), a member of a group of vampires. While thereby turned into a vampire, Caleb is unable to kill people for the blood he needs to survive, notwithstanding the efforts of both Mae, who is in love with Caleb, and the other members of his new, nighttime family to teach him their ways. He also is unable to let go of the memory of his daytime family, who continue to search for him. Eventually he deserts Mae and the vampire family and becomes, through a blood transfusion from his father, human again. One of the vampires, however, obsessively persists in pursuing Caleb’s sister, whom he wants to turn, so that Caleb must confront his nighttime family. Each member of the vampire family is eventually destroyed, burning up or bursting into flames upon contact with the daylight. Only Mae survives, turned human by a blood transfusion from Caleb and now part of Caleb’s daytime family.

Blue Steel (1990)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriters: Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red

Scarred by the abusive relationship between her parents, Megan (Jamie Lee Curtis) joins the NYPD and on her first day on the force shoots a supermarket robber. Soon thereafter victims are found throughout the city shot to death by bullets etched with Megan’s name. Taking up with and at first entranced by stock trader Eugene (Ron Silver), Megan comes to realize intuitively that he had witnessed her shooting in the supermarket and is now himself the obsessed shooter. No one will believe her, though, except for Detective Nick Mann (Clancy Brown). There follows a series of cat-and-mouse episodes in which Eugene with impunity kills Megan’s best friend, introduces himself to Megan’s parents at their home and in her presence, nearly kills Nick and rapes Megan. In the movie’s final sequence Megan chases down Eugene to the Wall Street area, where she cold bloodedly kills him point blank.

Point Break (1991)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriter: W. Peter Iliff

At the urging of his FBI partner and mentor, Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), FBI agent Johnny Utah (Kneau Reeves) infiltrates the surfer community in an effort to identify banker robbers who pose as ex-presidents. Taught how to surf by Tyler (Lori Petty) and then becoming romantically involved with her, Utah soon also becomes intrigued by and friends with Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the guru of a group of surfers who speaks of finding one’s inner calm through the rush of surfing. Utah eventually realizes that Bodhi and his group are the ex-president bank robbers. His effort at arresting Bodhi and his group of surfers results in the killing of the entire group, with the exception of Bodhi, together with Pappas. One year later Utah finds Bodhi in Australia waiting to ride the ultimate, 50-year wave. Granting Bodhi’s wish that he not be arrested and “caged”, Utah allows Bodhi to surf that wave to his death and then tosses away his FBI badge, his own future now uncertain.  

Strange Days (1995)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriters: James Cameron and Jay Cocks

Having been deserted by Faith (Juliette Lewis), the love of his life, Lenny (Ralph Fiennes), a former cop, now traffics in clips which allow their wearers to jack into the “forbidden fruit” of other people’s memories. As the year 2000 approaches and with LA in racial turmoil, Lenny finds himself entangled in a convoluted plot involving the murder of a black rap star by two LAPD cops, a murder which has been recorded on a clip, and the cover up murders of those involved in or connected with the making of that clip. Fearing that Faith will be the next victim due to her connection to the dead rap star’s producer and with the help of Mace (Angela Bassett), a security driver who is in love with Lenny, Lenny hunts down and discovers that the killer is his best friend Max (Tom Sizemore). High above the millennium crowds Lenny confronts Max and in their struggle Max falls to his death on the streets below. Mace, in turn, succeeds in killing the two LAPD cops just as the new millennium arrives. As Faith is led off to jail, Lenny and Mace embrace.

The Weight of Water (2000)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriters: Alice Arlen and Christopher Kyle

Jean (Catherine McCormack), a photographer married to Thomas (Sean Penn), a poet, seeks to unravel the mystery of a nineteenthcentury double murder, the two of them spending the weekend on the boat of Rich (Josh Lucas), Thomas’ brother, along with Rich’s then girlfriend, Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley), a longtime admirer of Thomas’ poetry and to whom Thomas is attracted. Through intercutting to the past, we learn how in the nineteenth century Maren (Sarah Polley), having as a young girl slept with her brother, was forced to marry an older man and live on an isolated, New Hampshire island. Initially Maren’s sister and later her brother, now married, come to live with Maren and her husband. One night Maren’s sister discovers Maren sleeping with their sister-in-law. Confronted by her sister with this seeming abomination, Maren thereupon kills both sister and sister-in-law, placing blame for the double murder on a former boarder who had made untoward sexual advances to all of the women. Based on Maren’s testimony, the boarder is hanged. The revelation of Maren as the murderer is intercut with the contemporary story in which Adeline is washed overboard during a storm while Jean watches passively, resulting in Thomas’ death while rescuing Adaline.   

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenwriter: Christopher Kyle

Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), a loyal party member, is assigned to take over command of the K-19, the most advanced nuclear submarine of the Soviet fleet, from Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson), who is viewed as too loyal to his crew. K-19’s first voyage is intended to display the Soviet Union’s nuclear prowess. Instead, the nuclear reactor develops a leak, threatening a meltdown, and the crew becomes dangerously ill due to the radiation, despite the sacrifices of many of the crew to repair the damaged reactor. Notwithstanding the crew’s unease with Captain Vostrikov and their loyalty to Captain Polenin, Captain Polenin remains loyal to Captain Vostrikov. Captain Vostrikov ultimately countermands orders from Moscow and evacuates his crew to a nearby Soviet submarine, rather than allow the K-19 with crew still aboard to be towed back to port. After the fall of the Soviet Union nearly thirty years later, both captains and the surviving crew members pay their respects at a cemetery tribute to the many who sacrificed themselves for the benefit of their fellow crew members.

Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow's first film with screenwriter Mark Boal, remains a Kathryn Bigelow film. For example, both Boal and Bigelow discuss on the DVD commentary to the film the "beautiful shot" of the kite which follows James' near death from the blast caused by the Iraqi family man. Boal focuses on how kites were used by Iraqi insurgents as signaling devices and hence the ambiguity of the shot. Bigelow, however, like movie viewers who would be unaware of that fact, recounts how she conveyed to Jeremy Renner, who portrayed James, that the first image he would see would be something "childlike" and "symbolic in its significance", thereby drawing the emotional connection to those few scenes of innocence elsewhere in the film, such as the early scenes with the Iraqi boy Beckham and the later scene with James' young son. These scenes, in turn, remind us of moments in earlier Bigelow movies, such as Mae's naive sharing with Caleb of her view of the nighttime sky in Near Dark or Johnny Utah's free-floating skydive in Point Break.

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