Director Kathryn Bigelow reopens the gritty “torture debate” in this year’s most politically-provoking film, “Zero Dark Thirty.”
“When it comes to torture, I trust the woman who spent three years married to James Cameron,” said actress Amy Poehler at this year’s Golden Globe Awards Jan. 13.
The camera then panned around the plush auditorium, and ended its celebrity-reaction-montage with the poised Bigelow, director of “Zero Dark Thirty” and this year’s most controversial filmmaker.
“Zero Dark Thirty” puns its title off the expression “oh-dark-thirty” — a military expression for half past midnight.
This year’s most notable films highlight an audacious approach to a history retold — look no further than Steven Speilberg’s “Lincoln,” Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.”
But what is perhaps most striking this year is Bigelow’s alleged endorsement of torture.
“Zero Dark Thirty” centers on Maya (Jessica Chastain), and her gritty passage into the horrors of post-9/11 Central Intelligence Agency culture.
The film opens with the none-too-forgotten phone calls of 9/11, as we enter a dingy CIA Black Site responsible for extracting Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Maya watches from behind her ski mask as American operatives water-board the sleepless, underfed, and caged Ammar.
At the plight of the heroine, the audience spends much of the film watching al-Qaeda-linked detainees undergo “enhanced interrogation.”
The audience learns that Maya is in hot-pursuit of Osama Bin Laden.
While synthesizing exhausting footage of detainees, Maya concocts a hunch that Bin Laden’s courier goes by the pseudonym, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
After dismissing Maya’s hunch as single-minded and unproductive, Maya threatens her superior with a dogmatic reminder of what the CIA has thus far failed to do — avenge her more than 3,000 Sept. 11 victims.
In a real time reenactment, Bigelow reminds her viewers of her directional talents, as we follow a troupe of Navy Seals into the house of Bin Laden. The film culminates with the clean-cut assassination of Bin Laden.
What has sparked the film’s controversy is its opening “journalistic” statement: “based on firsthand accounts of actual events.”
Leading CIA operatives have condemned this statement as a breach of U.S. intelligence, one that reconstructs half-truths for the sake of cinematic clout.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the U.S. Intelligence Committee, and Sen. John McCain, U.S. Armed Service Committee member, responded to the film as “grossly inaccurate” — specifically in its implication that torture was used to find Bin Laden.
For the Arab world, “Zero Dark Thirty” is just one contemporaneous film of many, which seeks to justify the brutality of American hegemony. Affleck’s retrograde “Argo” is another example of this, a film that allegedly ignores the Iranian plight, insofar as it serves as TV background noise.
From robotic aerial attacks, to the invasion of two countries, America’s ten-year “revenge story” is meeting widespread criticism.
Al-Jazeeran critic, Tarak Barkawi, argues that “Zero Dark Thirty” portrays an America “that is OK with torture” as long bin Laden was captured and the U.S. avenged.
Barakawi argues that post-9/11 America is bent solely on the rectification of anti-Americanism, but as America has learned, its military might cannot “cure” cultural dispositions.
Maya ends the film both alone and exhausted sitting in an empty war-machine on its way back to the homeland.
Between the funding of Syrian forces, a crippling recession and an ever-precarious protection of Israel, the United States has been alienated as, what opponents would call, a hollow weapon of war.
Bigelow said that torture is reprehensible, but that it did happen.
Bigelow leads viewers into the heart of the controversy and then frightfully deserts them. Audiences leave “Zero Dark Thirty” feeling abandoned and forced to answer some hard-hitting questions: Where did we go wrong? And where do we go from here?