The Zero Dark Debate, Ctd

Dec 18 2012 @ 11:40am

Manohla Dargis' review shares my own view of the movie. It simply holds a glass up to torture. A reader writes:

I read Jane Mayer's article yesterday and frankly was disgusted. Her primary complaint seemed to be that the film didn't work to redeem the reputations of her sources. As if the fact that the FBI was against torture, and people in the CIA and military were "conflicted" about it, in any way mitigated the fact that it happened.

Her attacks on some of the characterizations in the movie, the "it's biology" bit and so forth, seem to be of a piece with Glenn Greenwald's critique, in that they seem to take all of the CIA characters at face value. This would be appropriate if Maya and Dan were heroes like Jack Bauer, but they're much more unreliable, like Humbert Humbert or Colonel Mathieu from "The Battle of Algiers". In "Lolita," if you want to see a pro-pedophilia message, you'll see it, but only by completely accepting Humbert's framing, and that requires a pretty closed mind and/or a lot of obtuseness. Similarly in "Zero Dark Thirty," you'll see a pro-torture message, or a "hagiography" of the CIA, but only by accepting the CIA characters on their face as the "Good Guys."

But, I think it's clear these people aren't good people.

Maya flat-out wants to murder Bin Laden. Her female co-worker talks blandly about murdering a confidential source if he balks at doing a job. Dan plainly relishes Abu Ghraib methods in the event, even if he burns out on them eventually (poor baby!). Their station chief is a glib careerist, and most Agency types not named Maya seem to be condescending, cowardly, unimaginative and a little sexist. Maya is the most sympathetic character, but she's a very strange, unbalanced person. She's not "movie crazy," and its clear that she's high-functioning and once set into motion can accomplish anything, but she's no Bruce Willis/John McClane.

The film's depiction of violence, its attitude and politics, are ineffable, and you can't put it into words – you just have to see it and figure it out for yourself. I don't agree with the idea that it has no politics, it most certainly does, but I think they transcend any of the conversations in the press.

The suggestion that it's pro-torture completely weirds me out. The Kyle Smith article you linked to was the first one I saw that actually tried to make sense of this argument, insofar as I think this is possible – it's still ridiculous though. I guess if you sit through those scenes and you sincerely believe that what you're seeing is just, good for America and the world, affirmative and righteous before man and God, then you're entitled to say so, and here's something to talk about. But I think enemies of torture like Greenwald and Mayer are being counterproductive by presuming this argument in the film.

To me, it says more about their contempt for a median American moviegoer, his ignorance and his (supposed) predisposition to violence and revenge fantasies, than what is actually on the screen. Glenn's attitude is cultural Leninism: any depiction which does not condemn must be objective support.

Anyway, I appreciate your coverage of this.

My first take after seeing the movie here. Jane Mayer's here.