Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty: Question Everything You Know

Zero Dark Thrity
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jessica Chastain 

There is so much to say about this film, it is impossible to know where to start. However, as I type that, I realize that I start out many of my reviews with this exact refrain. But, this film is an exception and has throughly surprised me in theme, style and subject matter. It is incredibly thought provoking and I found myself full of questions at the end, it made me want to see more. This review will be full of spoilers, though I doubt they will matter because this film is going to read different to everyone based on your beliefs and your willingness to question them. While this film is not fact, it does reveal things that we would rather forget. Ideas that I don't think are talked about enough in civil tones.

This is the political film for a generation.  The film opens with the terrified phone calls made from the Twin Towers, which was emotional for me. I was 12 years old when 9/11 happened. I remember the day so clearly, and the fear it struck in me, even 1,000 miles away from New York. I remember being stressed out, over-whealmed and wanting desperately to turn off the TV. But my family was glued to the news, even as we blew out my mother's birthday candles.

Osama Bin Laden and all Muslims and Arab people by an unfortunate extension were vilified in the media. Too many Americans played into the hysteria and nationalism that griped the country. We invaded Afghanistan, which to many seemed justified. And a few years later, we invaded Iraq, for reasons that have never been clear. Either way, justified or not, our country attempted to defeat an enemy we didn't understand, an enemy that we didn't even know. We were driven by fear and we made many mistakes. Politicians used the wars for their own political gain, and rabbled fiercely while accomplishing little.

What this film does is expose a side of the war that has always been spoken of in hushed tones. It is based on a real individual within the CIA, and dramatizations of real events, which makes the story so much more compelling. The character,  Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a CIA officer who is one of the few people in the world focused solely on the intelligence hunt for Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. She is one of a hand full of people doing America's dirty work, while people in Washington took credit.

At its heart, this film is a look at a character and her extraordinary journey through horrors of modern warfare. Maya is strong, brilliant dedicated and often times obsessive, but she makes things happen. She is also empathetic and the work she does effects her on a deep emotional level. However, I found myself thinking, as much as I love this character, she is complicit in activities that I find reprehensible. Though on the other side, I can see that certain things were out of her control, and she did what she had to do to complete her mission. She is a complex person living in a complex world, and who are we to say we would have done something different?

The film poses many interesting questions. Can we ever justify torture? What are we willing to sacrifice to find one man? Do the ends justify the means? Just about everyone is going to say that torture is barbaric and we are far too advanced as humans to engage in such a brutal practice. But the film shows that, in at least a few cases, torture made a difference and may have ultimately lead to the killing of Osama bin Laden. But, do we as a nation think that it was worth it in the end? I would say no, but I also realize how little I understand about the subject.

The film depicts horrible scenes of torture which are hard to watch. One of Maya's colleagues in Afghanistan, Dan (Jason Clark), is an interrogator who subjects prisoners to water boarding, sleep depravation, humiliation and a host of other atrocities. But Dan is not portrayed as a monstrous human being, he didn't seem to relish in the torture, and he eventually burns out from the work and returns to the US. In the end we sympathize with Dan because he is just another person engaged and damaged in the dirty business of war.

The complexity of the characters is by far the biggest strength. The audience isn't told how they are supposed to to feel about Maya or Dan, which is why I say that this film will play different to everyone. Your reaction to the film will also have a lot to do with your political affiliation.

However, for Maya and Dan, the hunt for Bin Laden had nothing to do with patriotism. Soon after Maya began her mission, it became personal. She was not interested in playing politics, or making friends. She was not looking to rise up to power, or pad her resume. She had one goal, and refused to stop until she accomplished it. Her friends and colleagues were killed while in the field, and she felt the need to finish what she started, not for the country, but for the people who sacrificed their lives.

The last few scenes of the film were my favorite. I really enjoyed seeing the Navy Seals learn about, and execute the siege on Bin Laden's compound. It was shot beautifully, and used dark space in ways not often seen. The scenes in the compound were difficult to watch, but it gave a perspective that I think is lost in the real life politics of the situation. Many people around the US celebrated the death of Bin Laden, with out knowledge of the women and children who were effected by the violent attack.

This film made me question everything I thought I knew about war, torture, and al-Qeada. This film made me question my morals, and how I feel about my role as an American citizen in such a complex world. It will do the same to anyone who experiences this film. I encourage everyone to go see it alone, or with a friend who has a different set of beliefs. It will set off a debate that needs to be had.

Kathryn Bigelow is a brilliant director, and I have so much respect for her. She has done what too many directors are afraid to do, which is create a film that has complex characters, defies stereotypes and forces the audience to participate. The last line in the film is, "where do you want to go?"It is a question to all of us. And I don't know what the answer is.

A+ : This film is, so far, the best film I have seen this year. The writing is incredible, the characters are very complex, and it will make you question everything you thought you knew.

1 comment:

  1. Zero Dark Thirty is a gritty, graphic and dramatic presentation that is also in part to its fantastic performance from Jessica Chastain. Nice review Nicole.