I started to do a riff on The Hurt Locker as in order to explain why it’s sitting at the top of the 2009 Pure Pleasure list, but it went off in another tangent after I began talking about having recently met a couple of women who hadn’t heard of Kathryn Bigelow‘s film. Not 20-something waitresses this time but two well-to-do women in their 50s who’ve obviously been around and gotten a good grasp of things. Here’s how I put it:

Bigelow’s Iraq War thriller took me into a world of zero safety and security — the anxiety-plagued, dry-sweat realm of a military bomb-defusal squad in 2004 Baghdad. Except Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal do give us security — the kind that a person who’s “good” (in the Howard Hawks sense of that term) brings to this daily threat. A guy, in short, like Jeremy Renner‘s Sgt. James — smart, highly skilled, improvisational and focused like a madman.

And there’s the rub. James is an adrenaline junkie who simultaneously protects and endangers his team (Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty). The movie, likewise, also enthralls and unnerves audiences, and leaves them with an experience they’ll never forget.

The irony is that all those Hurt Locker raves that have been pouring in all year seem to have persuaded potential audiences that it’s an experience they’d rather not have in the first place.

If you’re averse to edge-junkie anxiety then Bigelow’s film is probably going to put you off on some level. The odd thing is that so many critics and filmmakers and cinema buffs have been turned on by this film, which is a guaranteed lock for a Best Picture nomination, and yet it’s only made $12 million. What’s this about apart from Summit Entertainment not knowing how to sell it, or lacking the will to keep plugging away?

I’ll tell you what the problem is. One, eight out of ten action-and-excitement fans (i.e., under-40 males) seem to prefer Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich CG crap to real-deal tension machines like The Hurt Locker. And two, women won’t deal with it. The buzz has convinced them that it’s too threatening, too invested in a situation that’s almost totally about non-assurance, and isn’t in the least bit concerned with fortifying the nest. (Which it isn’t, to judge by what Sgt. James does at the end.)

These are the same women, by the way, who won’t go to see The Cove because they don’t want to see Flipper get stabbed. And the same women who are going this weekend to The Blind Side and can’t wait to pay to see It’s Complicated.

Mainstream women have actually gone farther, I believe, than simply not buying tickets to The Hurt Locker. As with most war films I think many if not most women have instinctually decided to ignore it — to emotionally and psychologically wrap it up in newspaper and drop it in a garbage can.

The other night inside the Hotel Regency bar I spoke to two bright and attractive women in their 50s who hadn’t even heard of The Hurt Locker, and one of them used to work as a talent manager and knew the movie world that I live in (or lived in during the ’90s) pretty well. It’s one thing for sophisticated ladies to say “no thanks” or that they’d rather wait for the DVD, and another to say (and during Oscar season yet!), “What’s the title again?”

I suspect that these women (and millions like them) did hear of The Hurt Locker around the time it opened last summer, but they erased it off their hard drives so quickly and instinctually that it’s like it never existed. Physiologically the title was heard by their ears — the sound waves got through — but psychologically it was brushed off like cows in the pasture flicking at flies with their tails.