This article addresses two Iraq War films, The Hurt Locker (Bigelow 2008) and In the Valley of Elah (Haggis 2007), through the lens of trauma theory. Uniquely, it engages with Slavoj Žižek’s account of the Real in its analysis of how victim/perpetrator trauma is signified in their respective narrative structures and visual style. The primary argument is that the pattern of traumatic memory is reflected in their narrative modes. At the same time, it claims that the unfolding narrative of In the Valley of Elah mimics certain forms of trauma treatment, operating in a therapeutic mode for its characters (as well as offering narrative resolution for spectators). Such analysis of trauma differs from other scholarly approaches to these films that have variously considered them from perspectives of: embodiment in the war film (Burgoyne 2012); the ethics of viewing traumatic suffering (Straw 2011); the de-politicisation of torture by the inclusion of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Barker 2011); indifference to post-9/11 war films as an inability to respond to the trauma and loss that terrorism poses (Toffoletti and Grace 2010); trauma and the militarised body (Andreescu 2016); and the narration of trauma in Iraq War Films (Kopka 2018).
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