‘Zero Dark Thirty’ wants us all to be adults about this, but screw that noise

12 01 2013

By Kleinz 57

Zero Dark Thirty Mime at the Movies

Gird your loins, Americans. Zero Dark Thirty opens wide this weekend and director Kathryn Bigelow wants to infect you all with her disgraceful endorsement of torture. Sleep deprivation through music, routine beatings, waterboarding, motorboating, peanut butter on male genitalia — some of that stuff’s in Zero Dark Thirty. And even though Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal never explicitly qualify their stance on torture, even showing the obvious moral qualms of the CIA operatives engaging in them, it’s really obvious everyone involved thinks it’s okay to tear out people’s fingernails. Zero Dark Thirty wants us all to believe the physical and psychological degradation of terror suspects is right as rain. Somewhere, somehow. It’s there. Just give me like, another week to find it.

Seriously, people. Torture should be the only focus of our national furor, even if Zero Dark Thirty might be a remarkably riveting presentation of a story everyone and their Uncle Jimmy Jacks closely followed through national media. Beginning with a chilling audio-only collage of September 11th victims and their 911 calls, Zero Dark Thirty follows the career of CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) and the U.S. government’s search for Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. But who is Osama? A drug lord? Or maybe he’s let one too many parking tickets slip? We’re never really told, and that’s big problem for me. More importantly, think of the children… of the future! The curtailed motivations behind the manhunt for this bin Ladman guy could be problematic in forty years. In 2053, when the global book burnings have ended and teens read, eat, and sleep through their genius phone GADZORP supercubes, is the impact of one terrible, horrible no good very bad day in U.S. history going to resonate with kids?

There’s a slew of cameos from talented television actors, and Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, and Fares Fares all give strong turns as supporting players. But Chastain herself delivers a riveting performance, one that’s on the same pedigree of macabre obsession as Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmithin Zodiac, with the added bonus of not being Jake Gyllenhaal. I hesitate to spoil the fate of the Oswamba ben Lajpin villain, but he is in fact killed, and a final shot of Maya haunts us with the real costs of this decades long operation to find him. Consider the toll it places on Maya’s traumatized psyche or nonexistent social life, on the demoralized co-conspirators, on the dead soldiers or orphaned children. Is killing the film’s villain worth creating a similar hatred of the United States in the children he leaves behind?

To echo the Academy’s sentiment, fuck Kathryn Bigelow. Fuck her and her masterful juxtaposition of the public’s consciousness, for minimizing radio chatter and maximizing the visuals in SEAL Team 6’s raid on the Abbottabad compound with cloudy handheld shots, jarring green night-vision POV, and a rhythmic ostinato of quick cutting. Fuck Zero Dark Thirty for showing me torture that, regardless of the details, was once a part of the CIA’s protocol in getting shit done. Fuck Zero Dark Thirty’s cold, scientific presentation of a bittersweet moment in American history. Fuck it for presenting the operation at face-value and free of punditry and analysis, save a dissection of the trauma it visits against the involved parties. Fuck Zero Dark Thirty for treating me like an adult.

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