Harsh Times
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The following FAQ entries contain spoilers. Spoiler tags are avoided in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Harsh Times can be found here.

It is set in and around the South Central and Downtown Los Angeles in 2005, as evidenced by the production dates, and a Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas billboard shown in the background as the main characters are driving around the city.

The film opens with a sequence where a group of American soldiers attack what appears to be a small oil processing plant somewhere in a desert. This is subsequently revealed to be a dream in the mind of Jim (Christian Bale), although, presumably, the incident did really happen, as later on in the film, we find out that Jim was a United States Army Ranger in Iraq.

According to writer/director David Ayer on his DVD commentary track, the reason the scene is structured non-linearly (shots of Jim during the attack are intercut with him relaxing after the attack) is because he wanted the sequence to have a surreal feeling, more akin to a dream. This is also the reason he shot the entire scene in night vision.

It says "100% and then some." This comes from the Ranger Creed;


Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of the Rangers.

Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite Soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster, and fight harder than any other soldier.

Never shall I fail my comrades I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong, and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one hundred percent and then some.

Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well trained Soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress, and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.

Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.

Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor
.

When the film opens, Jim is staying in Mexico with his girlfriend Marta (Tammy Trull), but whilst she sleeps in her family's house, he sleeps outside in his car.

He later explains to his friend Mike (Freddy Rodríguez) that the reason for this is that Marta's family is very traditional, and Jim isn't allowed sleep in the house and in Marta's bed until he and Marta are married; "I only hit her once man, we can't go nowhere alone. They got me sleeping in the car."

When Jim first arrives at Mike's house, it is obvious that Mike's wife, Sylvia (Eva Longoria) dislikes him a great deal. In their first conversation, she tells him he looks like "a gift-wrapped turd," and he seems to take great delight in antagonizing her. No solid information is presented at first to explain her animosity, although it is established that she feels he is something of a bad influence on Mike; when Mike tells Jim that Sylvia is mad because the day previously, he stayed at home drinking and watching TV instead of going out to look for work, Jim's response is "That's on you homie. We didn't even hang yesterday, I was out of the country", to which Mike replies, "So? My old lady still thinks it's your fault." Obviously, Sylvia sees Jim as having a negative influence on Mike and encouraging him to behave irresponsibly.

Of this scene, David Ayer comments,


Sylvia's the only adult in the movie. She's someone who has matured, who's grown up. I figure Mike and Sylvia have been together since junior high, and she's gone on, got her education and she's a professional woman now, and she's starting to outgrow Mike [...] Jim is despised for good reason, he's definitely a bad influence.
It is not until later in the film that Sylvia reveals more specific reasons for disliking Jim. During the argument about whether Mike can go to Mexico, Silvia tells Jim, "You're fucking nuts. You're crazy and you're dangerous, and my biggest nightmare is you with a fucking badge. You're the last person who should have one." She also asks Jim "Are you gonna be happy once he's dead," once again returning to the issue of Jim being a negative influence on Mike, and revealing Sylvia's deepest fear, that Jim will in some way be responsible for Mike dying.

When Mike is explaining to Jim why Sylvia is in a bad mood, he says, "I didn't look for work yesterday dude. Sold some of her CDs, bought a couple of 40s and a pack of GPCs, caught a buzz and watched my Chicago versus Lakers tapes."

A "40" refers to a 40 ounce bottle of alcohol.

GPCs are a brand of cheap cigarettes produced by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. GPC stands for Guaranteed Price Cut, although, colloquially the cigarettes tend to be known as Gutter Punk Cigarettes

Prior to having his urinalysis, Jim drinks a bottle of vinegar, and then does something to his penis with a turkey baster. However, no explanation is provided as to what he does with the turkey baster, aside from it being "a trick he picked up in the army".

After Mike asks Jim why he drank the vinegar, Jim replies that "it shuts down the old kidneys". It's a popular theory among fans that he then uses the turkey baster to pump clean urine through his urethra and into his bladder. Because his kidneys have been shut down, he wouldn't be producing his own urine, hence he could 'hold' the fresh urine until releasing it during the test. A discussion of this technique can be found here (although the discussion is not related to the film in any way).

On his commentary track however, David Ayer says that what Jim is doing with the turkey baster is squirting saline solution through his urethra and into his bladder. This will dilute his urine but will remain undetected itself in the test. It is subsequently revealed that traces of THC metabolites were found in his urine during the test, but only in minuscule doses. This is despite the fact that Jim has been taking drugs only the day before the test. The reason for this discrepancy is because his urine has become diluted by the saline.

As regards the vinegar, the notion that it can shut down one's kidneys is false; the only known effect of vinegar on the kidneys is that it can help dissolve kidney stones. On the other hand however, there is a belief among some that vinegar can mask THC in the urine, and as such, Jim's drinking of the vinegar is most likely simply another part of his attempt to mask his drug use, just like his injection of saline. The theory claims that because vinegar is a diuretic, meaning it draws water out of the body, it would thus have the effect of diluting ones urine, because it lowers the pH (acidity) of the urine. However, according to Neonjoint.com "There is a myth that drinking vinegar will mask drugs; it won't" (quoted here). A more detailed analysis, which says the same thing, states,


THC is fat soluble, and it gets stored in fat cells. Cleaning it out of the lipid tissue is very difficult. Many products claim to clean out the system, yet they do nothing to remove THC by-products from fat cells. A study was done in Germany in 1993 on 50 of the most common herbs used by people trying to pass the test. All 50 herbs failed to cause a negative. Unfortunately, this rumor will not die. Goldenseal is useless; yet it's the most common thing for people to use. The only way to extract THC from fat cells is to exercise. Fat cells secrete fat with THC metabolites at a constant rate, regardless of what herbs you consume. You may be able to temporarily clean THC metabolites from your bloodstream, or dilute your fluids to yield a larger urine/THC ratio, but your bloodstream will continue collecting THC metabolites from fat, and your urine will continue collecting THC metabolites from your bloodstream (quoted here).
Whatever the case about the validity of the technique, Jim's drinking of the vinegar and injection of saline are both means to the same end - to mask the drugs in his system by way of diluting the toxicity of his urine.

It is in Spanish. He says, "Mataste a una flor", which roughly translates as "you killed a flower".

On the DVD commentary track, David Ayer speculates that perhaps Eddy (Emilio Rivera) pimped out the man's daughter, which is the same speculation Jim makes as he and Mike flee the scene.

He is clenching his sphincter ani externus muscle (ie his asshole) in an effort to throw the machine off. As he explains to Mike just prior to the test, "At every question you just fuckin' squeeze like you're taking a dump?". This is reiterated during the test itself, when the examiner (Barry Colvert) says, "Jim, knock it off. Son, I've been doing polygraph examinations since you were swimming in your daddy's balls, so I know all the tricks, you've either got a tack in your shoe or you're clenching your butt. I've got spikes all over this thing."

When Jim is in the office with Richards (J.K. Simmons), Hollenbeck (Michael Monks) and Gillespie (Craig Ricci Shaynak), he is approached by Gillespie, who speaks to him in Arabic. Gillespie says "Hal tatakallum al-'arabiyya?", to which Jim replies "Ana ba'aref shwayet Arabe."

This translates as "Do you speak Arabic?" and "I speak a little Arabic."

It is worth noting that on the R1 DVD, the subtitles at this point in the film mistakenly say that Jim and Gillespie are speaking Korean.

When Jim, Mike and Toussant (Chaka Forman) are at the party in Mexico, Jim takes Marta back to his car and they get into the back seat together. Everything is going fine until Marta tells Jim she is pregnant, and he seems to have some sort of breakdown, pulling his gun on her and threatening to kill her. She flees, and Jim, Mike and Toussant return to LA. However, Jim acts completely differently on the return journey, driving recklessly and daring God to kill him. This behavior prompts Toussant to tell Jim "You need professional psychiatric help," and ultimately, Jim even pulls his gun on Mike, before realizing what he is doing and beginning to cry.

No definitive explanation as to what exactly happens to Jim or why he behaves the way he does is ever given, but there is enough information provided throughout the course of the film to facilitate speculation.

On his DVD commentary, writer/director David Ayer says of this scene,


the basic gist is Jim snaps and he goes way too far with his girl. And you can blame it on a lot of things, alcohol, his madness, PTSD, what have you, but he does the wrong thing. And you could philosophize it, say maybe it's intentional, maybe he's doing it to burn his bridge or he just hears she's pregnant and snaps. There's a lot of ways to look at the scene.
At the centre of Jim's psychological being is a paradox - he seems to revel in and thrive off violence, yet he is haunted by violence to the point where he is virtually unable to exist in normal society. With this paradox in mind, a popular theory among fans is that Jim is, amongst other things, suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; he loved his time in Iraq, but nevertheless, it now haunts him, much as experiences with drugs may haunt a reformed drug addict. Jim is someone who is prone to violent behavior, and who gets excited by violence, and this type of psychological complex was nurtured in the army, where he was taught to use his aggressive tendencies to get the job done (as he himself explains to Gillespie when shown pictures of men he killed in Iraq). However, the paradox at the centre of Jim's psychosis is that the violence he perpetrated now haunts him, hence his PTSD. Eventually his disorder drives him to experience a psychological break-down, which is what happens in the car with Marta, and continues during his altercation with Mike and then in the stand-off with Flaco (Noel Gugliemi). The immanence of this breakdown is hinted at in the opening scene of the film, where he is dreaming about Iraq. The camera technique used when Jim is waking up (David Ayer refers to it on his commentary as "Jim's subjective rage vision") is repeated when he gets out of the car to attack the other motorist, when he threatens to kill Marta, when he threatens to kill Mike, and during the stand-off, thus linking these scenes and showing they are all manifestations of the same psychological imbalance. The fact that the technique is used only twice in the first three quarters of the film (in the opening scene, and when he threatens the driver), but is used four times in the last twenty minutes is very telling and illustrates that his psychosis is finally getting the better of him.

As such, although Jim does genuinely seem to thrive on violence (seen most clearly when he gets excited by the murder of Eddy), he is ultimately unable to handle the lasting ramifications of being in combat and exploring his violent nature. This is seen when Mike is pressing Jim for information on what it's like to kill someone, and Jim is extremely reluctant to talk about it. All through the film, Jim is adamant that all he wants is a quiet life with Marta where he can put his violent tendencies away, yet when presented with the opportunity to continue his life of violence in Mexico, he takes it, irrespective of the fact that it means he cannot marry Marta. When Martha subsequently reveals that she is pregnant, the magnitude of what he is rejecting hits him and he acts out. In this sense, his anger could very well be directed at himself, because he has given up on what he wanted in favor of that which haunts him, and thus the paradox becomes manifest and cannot be ignored. In this sense, perhaps Jim feels he is actually doing Martha a favor. Because he is going to Columbia, he knows he must end the relationship, and thus he is presenting himself as someone unsuitable, i.e. he is giving her a reason to break up with him. In support of this theory, during the scene, Jim frowns on both occasions when Martha tells him she loves him, as if confused as to why she would still love him when she should clearly hate him and be terrified of him. Ayer also hints at this possibility in the above quote; "maybe he's doing it to burn his bridge." Whatever the case about his intentions however, obviously, he goes too far; threatening to kill her, threatening to kill Mike, challenging God to kill him etc.

However, in relation to Jim's actions in the car with Martha and his experiences in Iraq, it must also be acknowledged that the military was not the only reason he was the way he was; i.e. the military did not create his violent tendencies, it merely cultivated them, and as such, perhaps his actions in the car cannot be wholly attributed to PTSD and to his failure to control his psychological paradox. Jim was obviously somewhat disturbed before he became a Ranger. This is seen when Toussant says "The craziest head I know is going to be a Fed." This illustrates that Jim was a "crazy head" prior to his time in Iraq. Hence his reaction in the car may simply be an aspect of a disturbed psychology which he has had since childhood. In this sense, Jim could be suffering from mania, as his behavior does fit the mould for someone suffering from this disease. Bipolar disorder is also a possibility, although his behavior is more akin to someone suffering from mania.

Whatever the case however, whether a natural psychological condition or an overwhelming case of PTSD, what happens to Jim in the car is that he has a complete psychological breakdown.

When Jim is trying to convince Mike to kill him, he says to Mike, "Don't look back or you'll turn into a pillar of salt."

This is a biblical reference. In the Book of Genesis, Lot travels to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because the land there is well watered. Several years later, God decides to destroy the cities because of their iniquity and godlessness, however Lot is warned of the impending doom by a group of angels whom he protects from the carnal desires of a group of men. Lot, his wife, his sons-in-law and his daughters are told that they must leave; "Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the Plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed" (Genesis 19:17). Lot and his family leave the city, escaping across Mount Sodom, however, as they move, Lot's wife looks back on the city, and is instantly turned into a pillar of salt.

Legend has it that Lot's wife is still visible on Mount Sodom today. A picture of the salt pillar can found here.

Later in the Bible, in the Book of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples


on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them -- it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it (Luke 29-33).

For a complete breakdown of the weaponry used in the film, including numerous images, see the IMFDb entry here.

A partial list of the real locations used in the film includes:

The Iraq desert scenes were shot in the Palmdale region of the Mojave Desert

Marta's shack was shot in a small town southwest of Ensenada in Mexico.

Mike's house was a real house located in the Boyle Heights environ of Downtown LA.

All of the police station scenes and most of the scenes in the Homeland Security building were shot at the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters on South Main Street in Downtown LA.

The shop were Jim and Mike purchase cigarettes, as well as the street where they steal the dealer's weed were both shot adjacent to Echo Park in Downtown LA.

The scenes in and around Letty's (Samantha Esteban) house were all shot in the Jordan Downs Housing Projects, located in South LA. Correction this scene was filmed between Hickory St. And Lou Dillon Ave and Firestone blvd.

All of the scene in and around Jim's apartment were filmed in West Adams in Downtown LA.

Darrell's (Terry Crews) house was located in Crenshaw in South LA.

The R1 US DVD released by The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment in 2007, contains the following special features:

Feature length audio commentary with writer/director David Ayer

Seven deleted scenes (see below for more information on these scenes).

US Theatrical trailer and 9 TV spots

The R2 UK DVD, released by Path in 2007, contains only the UK theatrical trailer.

Getaway after the fight: As Jim and Mike drive away from the confrontation with Flaco, Jim is checking his mirror to see if they are being followed when Mike tells them that he broke the ignition on Flaco's car.

Jim, the bad influence: A slightly extended scene of the urinalysis and a scene where Mike is trying to convince Jim to help him drop off resumes, but Jim convinces Mike to buy some beer and come with him to sell the gun.

Smoking with Darrell: An extended scene with Darrell. Mike talks about his community service after a DUI conviction. Darrell explains why he was in prison.

Jim comforts Mike: After Silvia throws Mike out, he arrives at Jim's and they discuss the situation.

Mike's job interview goes awry: Mike loses his temper at what he thought was a job interview but which turned out to be a pitch to join a pyramid scheme.

Jim's drug war speech: On their way to Mexico, Jim, Mike and Toussant discuss whether drugs will ever be legalized.

Dinner at Marta's: Mike and Toussant discuss Marta's mother's cooking.

Yes it is. The US edition, which is region free, contains the same special features as the R1 US DVD, plus a 25 minute "making of" featurette in HD.

r73731


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