Skip to comments.Love It, Hate Itóbut See It (Zero Dark Thirty)
Posted on 01/27/2013 1:08:55 PM PST by neverdem
Zero Dark Thirty, screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelows new film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, is weathering a storm of criticism. Critics overwhelmingly give the film positive reviews, but activists claim that it approves of and even glorifies the use of torture against suspected al-Qaida terrorists held in secret CIA prisons and black sites.
The accusation is ludicrous. Nothing in Zero Dark Thirty suggests that either Boal or Bigelow approves of torture. So many have accused Bigelow of torture advocacy that she took to the pages of the Los Angeles Times and answered the charges directly. As a lifelong pacifist, she wrote, I support all protests against the use of torture, and, quite simply, inhumane treatment of any kind. Not only is she against torture—shes a pacifist.
The reason shes being called out for the opposite—David Edelstein at Vulture.com even calls the film borderline fascistic and barely distinct from a boneheaded right-wing revenge picture—is that she set her own opinions aside and depicted the hunt for bin Laden journalistically and objectively. The films electrifying final third dramatizes the raid on the al-Qaida leaders compound in Pakistan, while the middle third shows the painstaking detective work that went into tracking him down. The films first third—the portion catching all the flak—takes place in secret CIA prisons in Afghanistan and Poland, where terrorist suspects are ruthlessly interrogated for intelligence about bin Ladens whereabouts.
Anti-torture activists are picketing theaters in cities around the country and handing out leaflets. They seem to be confusing activism with journalism and art, which I suppose makes sense, since theyre the activists and Bigelow is the artist. But someone needs to explain to them how journalism and art work.
Those of us who work in the arts, Bigelow writes, know that depiction is not endorsement. If it was, no artist would be able to paint inhumane practices, no author could write about them, and no filmmaker could delve into the thorny subjects of our time.
But Bigelows critics didnt want art, nor were they interested in a journalistic account. They wanted a cinematic op-ed piece and didnt get it. True, neither the writer nor filmmaker articulate an anti-torture message, but those trained in the arts know this sort of thing is not always necessary or even desirable. Good novelists and filmmakers can manipulate the emotions and even opinions of their audience, but they also know that the strongest emotions and opinions are self-generated. One of the first things a student of creative writing hears from a good teacher is show, dont tell. If you want the audience to think something is horrible, you dont tell them something is horrible. You show them something thats horrible and let them come to a conclusion about it themselves.
The first third of Zero Dark Thirty not only depicts scenes of prisoner abuse; it also includes gut-wrenching scenes of mass murder and terrorism. No character waltzes in front of the camera later to tell the audience that terrorism and suicide bombings are wrong. That would be gratuitous and insulting, as if the audience were made up of four-year olds.
The scenes depicting prisoner abuse are trickier, because the films protagonists are committing violence against helpless captives. Its less obvious how were supposed to feel about that. American public opinion is divided. Speaking for myself, I sank in my seat and cringed during those scenes. I saw the movie twice, and I was no more comfortable the second time around.
My feelings of revulsion were entirely self-generated. Neither Boal nor Bigelow told me to feel that way. If the film had lectured the audience, or if one character lectured another, my own natural reaction to what I had seen would have been somewhat diminished. Thats why calling a book or film preachy isnt a compliment.
There is no getting around it: What took place in those CIA black sites was a nasty business. If you abhor what went on there, you should appreciate the fact that Zero Dark Thirty portrays it unflinchingly. If, on the other hand, you approve of the rough methods used to extract information from captured al-Qaida members, if you think the results were justified by the means—rest assured that none of the films characters will step in front of the camera and call you a monster. Zero Dark Thirty doesnt tell anyone what to think. Its shows us what we should think about.
Journalists and consumers of quality journalism should be thankful for this; artists and consumers of quality art should be thankful, too. Activists, and those with an activist way of thinking, are the ones who have a problem with the neutral and balanced approach—not because they want to be lectured themselves, but because they want to sit in a room where everyone else is being lectured.
Zero Dark Thirty is a hybrid of journalism and drama that includes no moralizing and no op-ed flourishes. Instead, its a gritty crash course in reality, which doesnt care about anyones political preferences. Reality isnt liberal or conservative or fascist or libertarian. It just is.
True, the filmmakers used creative license to create composite characters, making some scenes in the film not strictly accurate. When activists and critics accuse Zero Dark Thirty of giving the false impression that torturing prisoners yielded vital information that helped us track down bin Laden, they have more of a case. Here, theyre half right.
We see a detainee waterboarded, placed in excruciating stress positions, kept awake for days on end by heavy metal music at volumes only appropriate for a rock concert, stripped naked, and forced to crawl around on the floor while wearing a dog collar. After all that, he coughs up the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, which turns out to be the nom de guerre of bin Ladens courier. This critical piece of intelligence eventually helped lead the CIA to the terrorist masterminds safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
That, however, is not exactly what happened. The prisoner in the film, Ammar, isnt based on any one detainee. Hes a composite. Everything that happens to him in the film really did happen to prisoners at CIA black sites, but the real-life version of the man who gave us the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti—a Saudi, Mohammed al-Qahtani—wasnt waterboarded. Nor was he placed in stress positions. But according to Peter Bergen, a prize-winning journalist who knows this subject better than just about anyone, al-Qahtani was kept awake. . . by loud music being blasted when he was falling asleep, doused with water and subjected to cold temperatures, kept naked and forced to perform tricks as if he were a dog. So while its true that the CIA didnt learn about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti by waterboarding a prisoner, the CIA did waterboard prisoners, and it did acquire al-Kuwaitis name from harsh methods that are no longer used and that are condemned as torture by those who condemn acts of torture.
Filming all this without comment does not constitute an endorsement. Kathryn Bigelow explained her intention this way in Los Angeles Times: Bin Laden wasnt defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.
Zero Dark Thirty is not just a movie. As a creative, quasi-historical document, it is likely the most vivid and realistic depiction of the hunt for Osama bin Laden that will ever be filmed. Love it or hate it, everybody should see it.
I liked it.
Its make the obvious point that without the policies of George Bush, we don’t find and kill bin Laden.
For Hollywood, that’s a inconvenient truth.
How about just saying "waterboarding isn't torture"? How about saying "research under the Bush administration provided the information that led to Bin Laden's capture, whether Obammy wants to admit it or not"?
As a pacifist, how does she reconcile Obama's killing of Osama Bin Laden AND Momar Gaddafi?
I have no interest in seeing it, maybe some day when its on free and I am too lazy to change the channel.
I’ll wait till it’s at Redbox for $1.30.
Considering the rhetoric and propaganda have flavored public opinion, it is difficult to objectively conclude "there's no getting around it".
Abuse at Abu Ghraib was not sanctioned from above, no matter what the corrupt woman in charge has tried to claim. The lesbian who photographed herself "thumbs upping" a corpse was likewise acting out of line.
The Guardian's photos British military urinating on a "prisoner" were staged agit prop circulated as fact. Same with the sex site photos of "US" "military" "raping" "Iraqi women". The Boston Globe ran them as fact.
What are the CIA alleged to have done at a "black sites"?
Put wires (with no electricity connected) to a man's fingers? Waterboarding? WHAT?
Hunter S. Thompson said (on Disney-ESPN's website) that the Abu Ghraib photos were more horrific than the worst Nazi atrocities. Hyperbole is so far beyond the pale, we need to discuss facts before using sweeping generalizations to conclude that Boosh was an evil terrorist.
Ammar has a lot in common with Obama's 'girlfriend'. And he wasn't considered a "loser" for lying about some of the women he's loved before.
Why anybody would waste their hard earned money on anything Hollywood put out is beyond me, These people HATE AMERICA and everything it stands for, they have for a long, long time. let’s not forget she was married to the Communist James Cameron, and Communists only associate with fellow Communists.
Maybe next they could make a movie about the death of Momar Gaddafi (has ANYONE been charged in his murder?).
And after that a movie about Ben Ghazi, if anyone can find his current whereabouts.
I don’t go to theaters any more. People are to rude these days. Parents do not teach their children how to behave in public. I will just have to wait.
I will not be putting money into the pockets of Hollywood...it would just be used against me later.
i don’t go because i do everything in my power not to support hollywood...
No, I will not see it, as I have promised myself that I will not give the America-hating Hollywood another dime.
Picked up a copy of “Seal Team 6”, a waste of money, nothing more than propaganda. It did make a good target.
Just curious, what did you think of the movie “Act of Valor”?
I haven’t seen “Seal Team Six”, and I don’t have any plans to see “Zero Dark 30”, but I liked “Act of Valor”.
“Picked up a copy of Seal Team 6, a waste of money, nothing more than propaganda. It did make a good target.”
I agree. SEAL Team 6 was nothing but election year propaganda for Obama, produced by the America hating billionaire, Harvey Weinstein. It was atrocious, featuring Obama for way too long and portraying SEAL operators as knuckle draggers but politicians as courageous and honorable. Disgusting!
It’s on VEETLE.COM all the time now.
OR... you can go to VEETLE.COM and watch it It isn't currently streaming, but probably will be later in the day.