The war in Iraq officially began on March 20, 2003, and has been going ever since. The conflict in the region, invasion, and debates over why it started have inspired dozens of films and TV shows... but have they inspired their own genre of storytelling?
Are there tropes you associate with these kinds of stories?
And where do they fit within war movies?
While we list Academy Award winners and have seen some of the best storytellers take on these kinds of projects, many of them feel narratively different and unrelated, although there are some overlaps. like shooting a very yellow desert and someone uttering, "I don't even know why we're here!"
Jack Nugent of Now You See It explores this idea in the video essay below. Check it out and let's talk after the jump.
Do Iraq War Movies Have a Specific Genre?
World War II has its own sense of genre. So do Vietnam War movies. Each of them has meant different things to their respective generations. They've inspired TV shows and some of the greatest work put on film.
The Iraq War feels different, both in the political nature within the United States (and the world) and in the way we look at what these movies are about:
- World War II movies are generally about duty and honor; good and evil.
- Vietnam War films are about the rigged system. They're about poor people and social unrest.
Both of those movie genres are about everyman soldiers dealing with what life has given them, and hoping to make it home.
But the Iraq War and the American occupation of Iraq don't have such a clear perspective when it comes to storytelling. Sure, there's the "why are we here" stuff that seems to flow in and out of every war movie, but there's no clear answer.
See, this is not an "everyman" war like the two previously discussed. It's a war of specialized soldiers, elite special forces of people who were not drafted, but who volunteered.
That means this is a warrior class of people. This is their vocation. And these are the people we follow in a lot of movies like Hurt Locker or American Sniper. We're not asked to identify with them, because there's no way we can.
One of the main questions these movies ask are the ones we asked after 9/11: How do you spot a bad guy?
This is, at times, a fine line between racism and sensationalism. Because many of these movies are made with United States military input, American troops are usually seen with great interpersonal skills, unlike how they were seen in movies like Platoon.
Chris Kyle always picks the right person to snipe.
The right people were tortured in Zero Dark Thirty, even if actual history tells us torture had nothing to do with finding Osama Bin Laden.
These movies are all made with a point of view, so you have to take that into account when you view them as a whole as well. What's the point behind it? What are we trying to say and do?
There is no unifying thread within the Iraq War filmography. Maybe one will eventually emerge, but it seemed like the Vietnam movies understood what they were only a few years after the war.
One thing a lot of these movies take into account that the others don't really touch on, perhaps because they had never studied it, is PTSD.
We see it in Sniper, Hurt Locker, The Messengers, and it's a genuine stalwart of the genre. We're not just dealing with the questions and justifications about the war but the atrocities that were seen and how people handle it after.
In this way, the war feels more visceral. But since we have no resolution, a lot of these stories are left open-ended.
Another thing we're lacking is stories about the Iraqi perspective. We got a taste in Lost, but that was dabbling in some flashback, not real development. And even the side characters in these movies are usually scouts or children or villagers who are either the enemy or just there to answer the American idealism presented.
At the end of the day, the medium of film and television is probably not the best way to get the nuances of a 17-plus-year conflict, but it should inspire conversations about it. The conversations we're having now are all over the place.
I think the idea that stories must fit into the same genre is antiquated.
Still, with so much ground to cover, it would be interesting to see some of the graphs covering similar themes within the most prominent version of this story.
As writer Matt Goldberg states in an article on Collider, "Hollywood, eager to make topical movies, tried to make films about the Iraq War, but these largely tepid and milquetoast efforts have been mostly forgotten because they never question the machinery that created the war in the first place. The conflict was never between pro-war and anti-war, but rather that war is a given, it’s complicated, but we can all agree to support the troops. We can’t question the motives for sending them off to die in a conflict based on a lie, but we can agree that we should support them somehow."
What do you think of this analysis of the Iraq War movie?
Do you see tropes they missed?
Let us know in the comments.