The film “Zero Dark Thirty” has touched quite a cord in this country, such as with Peter Henne’s post below that responds to my own post further below. To his credit, he opens up another strand of the wider debate this film has touched off. My own reflection delves into the torture controversy writ large, as well as the the purpose and role of art in film making form. Peter uses the latter to widen our view into what this film has to say about civil-military relations in American society.
Peter, I wonder if I could draw you out further on several facets of your observation. First it would be useful if you could go into more detail about specifically how Karthryn Bigelow and Mark Boal could have depicted the military personnel in their film more accurately. I take your point that “The Hurt Locker” was riddled with problems in this regard, and not surprisingly complained about widely by military observers. But while the film spends much more time focused on CIA operatives and analysts, it appears that Zero Dark does a much better job of depicting military personnel and how they do what they do. After all, the journalist Boal spent legions of hours with Seal Team 6 and military commanders from CENTCOM.
Anyone who did not see “Zero Dark Thirty” on its opening night was smart, as it was mayhem in theaters everywhere. The film shot to #1 at the box office overnight and is there still, for the plain and simple reason that it’s a must see (no spoiler alert here because we all know at least a little about eliminating Osama bin Laden). Zero Dark features a razor sharp screenplay by Mark Boal, top form directing by Kathryn Bigelow, and higher than high stakes drama from start to finish.
This film, however, is sufficiently controversial that there may soon be Congressional hearings about it–Sen. John McCain and Sen. Diane Feinstein had it in their sites by day one. The charge is that Bigelow and Boal depict torture in a manner that glorifies it, by way of a plot that allegedly portrays the U.S. government/military eliminating OBL only via intelligence gleaned from full on, no holds barred torture. In my view they are innocent of this charge. The raging debate over the film is misdirected and could do better to be debating this country’s torture legacy rather than a film that deserves serious consideration for a best picture Oscar.
Quite a weekend, the opening of Zero Dark Thirty in the U.S. reminding everyone of the interventionist elements of the Obama Doctrine (see my next post) and a full-fledged French intervention in Mali, not to mention U.S. assistance with a French hostage liberation operation tucked away on the inside pages.
Washington, D.C. is a funny place these days…all but two of the think tanks here are obsessed with the rise of China and just about the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment is choking on economic austerity and therefore fully inclined to doubt that our government or any other can afford much in the way of armed interventions these days.