Zero Dark Thirty: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love torture
We all know how this movie ends: Bin Laden’s face is made into Swiss cheese. But in order to get to Abbottabad, you’re going to need to torture some people first.
The first thing I said when the ending credits started to roll was, “I’d see it again right now.” Since I’m going to see it again, I’ll hold off my defense of why I think this movie is even better than my other two favorites from this winter, Lincoln and Django Unchained. Right now, I want to talk about torture.
Zero Dark Thirty spans from September 11, 2001 to May 2, 2011. It begins with the date over a black screen, and I have never seen Hollywood depict 9/11 so appropriately. I was expecting another collage of airliners transforming into fireballs on the New York City skyline, but instead the screen stays black and the day’s events unfold through the recorded conversations from that infamous morning. You re-live it all through actual recordings of the desperate pleas from flight crews, people calling home out of their smoke-filled offices, and animalistic confusion of responders and air-traffic controllers asking, “Is this real-world or exercise?” It made 9/11 seem like a fresh wound.
The film then jumps ahead to a torture chamber where a suspected terrorist is slowly drowned and suffocated, which is also known as waterboarding. While he’s subjected to Abu Ghraib-style humiliation, I couldn’t help but think about how life-changing it would be to give up your friends or loved ones to your torturers—an irreversible act that would scar you forever. When you named names. When you screamed, “Do it to Julia!”
I think the general perception of this film will be that the torture of detainees was necessary in order to extract vital information that could lead to Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. The scenes of torture are interrupted by numerous terrorist attacks, such as the 2005 London bombings, the 2008 Islamabad Marriot Hotel Bombing, the 2009 suicide bombing at Camp Chapman, and the failed car bomb attempt in Times Square in 2010. It puts you back in the days when terrorist attacks were expected like clockwork.
We tend to think of torturers as members of a different species. But this movie puts a human face, the rugged, surfer-bro mug of Jason Clarke, as that of your friendly interrogator. It doesn’t pit you against the C.I.A.; it shows a small group of people under incredible pressure to produce results in order to foil the next hijacking or car bomb.
Some commentators claim the movie “makes a case for the efficacy of torture.” Others agree that the implication is, “No waterboarding, no Bin Laden.” If torture couldn’t produce useful information at all, there would be no ethical question about it. That’s what makes Zero Dark Thirty so good. It turns you into a bit of a sadist. If we forget about this guy’s humanity, we might get the name of some Saudi playboy or Yemeni gangster that could lead us to someone that might know Bin Laden’s mailman. You’ll do whatever it takes to get the information you need, and that includes beating the hell out of someone until he or she gives you a name. The movie doesn’t endorse anything, but it puts you into the uncomfortable shoes of the real people who were faced with the real task of hunting down the world’s most wanted man.
Django Unchained: A study in brutality and comic relief
Introduced by a chain-gang forcibly marched in the dead of night by two armed white men on horses through the countryside of Texas, I was immediately cast into the deep South set two years before the Civil War. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained follows lead role Django (Jamie Foxx), a recently freed slave who lost his wife in the slave trade, and his bizarre encounter with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter masquerading as a traveling dentist. The cart he keeps his bounties’ dead bodies in is a mobile dentist cart with a giant molar springing off on top.
Django and Dr. Schultz team up in efforts to track down and rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). This ultimately leads to the acquaintance of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who owned the infamous plantation: “Candyland.”
This dangerous journey skillfully inspired my every emotion. I caught myself laughing at comedic instances in which our two main protagonists shed comic relief with their smart and charismatic wit. Director Tarantino did not lessen the brutal and inhumane history of life in slavery during the 19th century. I could cry due to such horrific realizations of what reality was like and so graphically portrayed for us, the audience, to see in this film.
I strongly recommend this daring movie and praise its gutsy, graphic exposure of the southern slave’s perspective. And how coincidental that Tarantino‘s Django Unchained would come out around the same time as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
Press photos from http://oscars.org