Why do women tear other women down? I ran across a hatchet job on Kathryn Bigelow by film critic Martha Nochimson at Salon this morning. Nochimson's attack is personal, and, in a nutshell, boils down to the charge that Bigelow ditched her femininity to succeed in a man's world. A lesser included offense is the rather strange charge that Bigelow's Sgt. James in The Hurt Locker is less manly than -- of all people -- John Wayne, who consistently glorified war, but whom Nochimson characterizes as a "meaningful mentor" to young men.
There has always been tension between creative people like Bigelow and the critics who crash their parties, but this "criticism" -- which reminds me of the gender issues raised around exceptional female atheletes -- is less an example of second-rate criticism than an example of the way women tear each other down. While Bigelow is trying to crash through Hollywood's glass ceiling, Nochimson is hanging onto her legs. When will women stop acting like crabs in a basket, crawling over one another to get out?
Make no mistake about it, Nochimson's article is not about The Hurt Locker. It's about Bigelow and the kind of woman she is.
Bigelow deserves and will get the Best Director Oscar for her work on The Hurt Locker. Her film conveys both the incredible pressure American troops in Iraq have been under to make instant life-and-death decisions and the limits of high-tech to take the pressure off of them. As she develops the film's premise, that something about war is addictive, we realize it's not just Sgt. James who's addicted. All of us are. In Sgt. James' case, it's the unmediated experience of danger that's addictive. He disarms bombs with his own hands. For the rest of us, it's war as the central reality of our time.
That Sgt. James is unable to find his way home, that by the end of the film all he wants is another moonwalk down a deserted Baghdad street in search of another bomb, says something important, though disturbing, about what it means to be a human being -- or a nation -- at war.
Ms. Nochimson should watch The Hurt Locker standing up next time. Clearly, most of it went over her head. And she should give up criticizing films until she learns what irony and metaphor are for.