Green Zone

I was in a shopping mall when the first bombs dropped on Baghdad. It was spring break, 2003, and I was vacationing with my family in Florida, taking a breather from an unsatisfying freshman year of college and the incessant march to war that had accompanied it. Always a history buff, I was both fascinated and repelled by what was happening - the notion of invasion never made sense to me and Bush's justifications appeared half-baked at best, yet it was with a sense of relief that the inevitable drumbeat reached its crescendo (if it's going to happen, happen already!). And of course it was a bit overwhelming to experience such a historic moment, and to feel so frustratingly sidelined. That evening, in fact, sitting down for dinner at a plastic restaurant in the middle of touristy mega-plaza, I quizzed my parents about their own brushes with history: where had they been when JFK was killed? When a man walked on the moon?

I think we were onto the fall of the Berlin Wall when our waitress approached and let us know that they had just started bombing Iraq - earlier than anticipated, since Bush's 48-hour warning to Saddam had only passed a few hours ago, and the bombing had not been expected till tomorrow morning. Looking as if she was restraining tears, the young woman mentioned that she had a sister in the Reserves, stationed in Kuwait at that very moment, awaiting the ground invasion. She kept her cool; my mother cried for her. That night we huddled around the TV set in the hotel room and watched the eerie orange glow over the ancient city, and I remember feeling irked that, when we flipped the channels, normal programming was on some of the cable networks. The next morning, vacationers splashed and swam in the swimming pool but an uneasy sense of irreality hung in the air. In the lobby of the resort, families - I particularly remember the old men in Hawaiin shirts - gathered around the TV as a Rumsfeld press conference unfolded.

There we were, surrounded by palm trees and the heat, half a world away from the action. It was an unforgettable sensation. Why do I mention all of this, particularly when I try to avoid these autobiographical, anecdotal asides in my pieces? Because Green Zone re-awakened the feelings of that moment: the odd mixture of pride, frustration, confusion, and helplessness that accompanied the most ambitious and dramatic start of an American war since World War II. I saw the film the other night in a crowded multiplex (though the lines forming through the lobby were for the 3-D Alice in Wonderland) and before the movie we were deluged by Avatar advertisements for Coca-Cola and embarrassing promos for Kirstie Alley's self-humiliating new reality show (during which I put my head down and tried to read a book I'd brought along). The audience chatted and chuckled ironically at the self-aggrandizing trash flaunted across the screen, but they fell silent when the screen went to black. The mood was quiet, intent - suddenly we all seemed to be in the same boat again, riding stormy seas, this time headed into the maelstrom instead of huddling on the horizon, trying to squint and glimpse at what was going on inside.

6 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

Nice to read this summation of your theatrical experience Joel, and of some vital historical relevence here, so to speak, as I am leaving my home is about 15 minutes to see the film at our local Edgewater multiplex. The critics are divided, though I see Ebert, the NY Times Scott, Zahareck and the Village Voice's Hoberman are among the yay sayers. I am trying to cull a summary judgement from this review, but I am assuming it's mostly favorable in view of this:

"There we were, surrounded by palm trees and the heat, half a world away from the action. It was an unforgettable sensation. Why do I mention all of this, particularly when I try to avoid these autobiographical, anecdotal asides in my pieces? Because Green Zone re-awakened the feelings of that moment: the odd mixture of pride, frustration, confusion, and helplessness that accompanied the most ambitious and dramatic start of an American war since World War II."

MovieMan0283 said...

Mixed - you'll see. I'll be interested to hear your reaction.

Sam Juliano said...

To be honest I disliked it intensely.

MovieMan0283 said...

You're not the only one - check out Tony Dayoub's great put-down, which is linked at the bottom of my review.

Hokahey said...

This is a touching approach to your review here. Yes, the images of the bombing of Iraq brought back a visceral time. I liked the first half of this film better than the latter half - which became standard thriller and not up to standard Greengrass quality. The first half really pointed out the crime of sending young American soldiers into harm's way on false pretenses. I also like how Greengrass has turned Matt Damon into a believable action-movie hero.

MovieMan0283 said...

Thanks, Hokahey. Particularly since many more recent Iraq films have focused on the gruelling occupation of the country, it's a surprise to be taken back into the earlier, more disorienting days of the war...