Zero Dark Thirty (USA, 2012)

zero_dark_thirty_ver4_xlgDirected by: Kathryn Bigelow. I wasn’t sure what to make of Kathryn Bigelow. On the one hand, I thought The Hurt Locker was pretty overrated, and ultimately not a very novel take on the standard “War is hell and look at the damaged renegades who fight it” story. I’ve had debates with people over this view, and even though I thought it was technically a well done film, and it’s great they gave the Oscar to a woman for a change, and it’s great they didn’t give that particular Oscar to fucking James Cameron, I’m still not sure I’d call it the Best Film of that year. Of course, the Oscars are nonsense anyway, and my fascination and frustration with them is a whole other conversation. Suffice to say, I knew I had to see this movie, because of its cultural importance, etc, but I was resistant. Also, it got a lot of negative hype for being super conservative and justifying torture and justifying basically the entire War on Terror, which the film and its supporters argued against. Now that I’ve seen it, I think I agree that the movie definitely apologizes for all of those things, and it might be one of the most conservative movies I’ve seen in a long time, especially one made by Hollywood liberals. But I’m definitely glad I saw it, because it is indeed an important film in our culture, in our current moment, and overall a really interesting and sophisticated character arc. How often do you see women in a lead role in a movie that isn’t about domestic and/or relationship shit? This lead part is a fucking godsend to any actress lucky enough to get it, and Jessica Chastain, already proving herself with great small-budget indie/arthouse films, increased her points immeasurably in everyone’s books with this performance, including mine. Chastain is more than equal to the task of depicting this complicated, believable character, who really only shows her humanity at the very end. Even as I write this, though, it occurs to me that this role is perhaps not revolutionary, that perhaps it’s also just a variation of Jeremy Renner’s character in Hurt Locker, which in turn is a variation of the same old “battleworn renegade” motif, doing what she’s gotta do to survive in a harsh world. In this case, there’s also a few elements of the “soft idealist turns into a hard realist by the toughness of the world”, which is similar. It’s actually plain as day, now that I mention it: at first, she’s put off by torture, but she sees it gets results, and her friend dies from terror, and she’s converted from a bleeding heart liberal to a realist, tough conservative, and she embraces torture as a legitimate form of obtaining information and stopping the awful terrorists. Sooo there’s that whole thing. Again, as with Hurt Locker, there’s no remote questioning of the context of the war, of putting a human face on it, or of trying to do anything other than take the official ideology at face value. But the people on the ground don’t question the context—this movie just shows it like it Really Is, and if you can’t see that, you’re missing the whole point! But of course the way it Really Is is a complicated, multifaceted thing, and any critical adult should know better than to appeal to objective factuality in a constructed context like a movie. Sure, the guy they’re torturing has a face, and we see how flawed and human he is, and a pat on the back to Ms. Bigelow for showing us that. However, this movie, unlike Hurt Locker, deliberately takes time away from the subjectivity of the government agents, and directs our attention, hovering “objectively”, to show us a peaceful scene of foggy London town, a place of freedom and nice things and BOOOOOOM! TERRORISTS! MINDLESSLY DESTROYING OUR PEACEFUL WAY OF LIFE FOR NO REASON! As with the previous film, this film deliberately doesn’t show us any hint of why these faceless enemies are acting as they are. In other words, the film shows us a justification for the torture of suspected terrorists—the horrifying scenes of detached violence perpetrated by extremist Muslims—and it deliberately does not show us the horrific violence of, say, an American drone blowing up a building full of innocent people (and maybe one suspected terrorist), thus making the violence of this complicated fucking mess of a situation seem very unidirectional and simple: They bad, we good; they do bad things, it bad; we do bad things, it good because they badder than we bad. This nuanced, sophisticated look at the way things inherently Are is a deliberate construct and it deliberately shows us a viewpoint that corroborates the official channels in their justification for the War on Terror, for the whole ideology. This is not a detached look, this is a very effective propaganda film for the Right, and what makes it really strange is that, again, it was made by Hollywood liberals who thought they were being really detached and objective. SO: these are my reservations. When someone asks me what I thought of this movie, I’ll tell them “I liked it, it was a really compelling, well done narrative and an interesting look at modern warfare and American governmental culture”, etc. But also, “a really compelling propaganda picture,” which it is.


3 responses to “Zero Dark Thirty (USA, 2012)

  1. Pingback: Lawless (USA, 2012) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Arrival (USA, 2016) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Nocturnal Animals (USA, 2016) | Offhand Reviews·

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