Zero Answers in Zero Dark Thirty

19 Jan

The movie was stylistically well done. I can appreciate that. I can also appreciate that it did not treat the audience as clueless sheep who needed to be led from A to B concluding in C.  The movie asked a lot of questions but respected my ability to formulate answers on my own.

At least on some level.

As I began gathering my thoughts to email a friend my opinion of the movie, I just found the questions piling up without any answers. The questions made me uneasy.

Here’s one: I am comfortable seeing dramatizations of things that happened in World War I and II and in the early days of America’s history. I watch representations and dramatizations at museums and none of it bothers me. Yes, I try to remember that this is not the real history – this is an attempt to replicate it. Why is it hard to watch a dramatization of something that happened in very recent history? Am I okay with the government and military not having a say in the writing of this film? On the flipside, would I be okay if my government and military had offered help on this film? Do I believe that some moviegoers will come away from the movie seeing it as Gospel-truth? Yes. Am I uneasy about that?

Here’s another: The movie chose a “people in the trenches” perspective and very much borrowed from The Hurt Locker’s view of a woman in a man’s world as the feminist hero.  I have no problem with heroines, with women being portrayed as tough and intelligent. But in an attempt to not perpetuate a stereotype (that military matters are a man’s world) I felt that this movie further perpetuated that stereotype by focusing so much on this aspect. I prefer to think of history being made by a group of intelligent men and women doing their national duty. Focusing on just one woman to convey to me that women played a role in the hunt for Bin Laden maybe could have worked but instead felt just a little forced.

And a third: The movie offered a very limited perspective from a very specific point of view. It’s understandable – it would be a much more complicated and lengthy movie if you tried to examine the big picture. But can accurate conclusions be drawn without a bigger picture? I can watch a Patriots game through just one camera lens. I may see all the touchdowns but that doesn’t mean I will see all the action and how the plays were set up and which team was playing better and what the overall strategy was. Or I can watch a Patriots game with cameras that only follow Tom Brady. Once again, I may get the gist of the overall game but don’t ask me for details or to explain any wider context.

I believe that was a deliberate choice. Do I come away knowing if torture helped us find bin Laden? No. But I come away convinced that torture happened. Do I know how this hunt and capture affected the world? No. But I know how a very small team of people reacted to it.

And lastly, this is not a feel-good movie. I think that’s a good thing but it can also be a distressing thing. The CIA claims that the movie was correct in implying that enhanced interrogation techniques (aka, torture?) were used but that the movie depicted them wholly inaccurately. I find myself full of distressing questions that lead to more uneasy questions…it’s a ball of string that as I untangle it, only leads to more knots and no ends.

Is justice worth it at any cost?
Does using torture techniques make our nation any different than bin Laden and his cohorts?
How far should a nation pursue something like this?
When does the pursuit switch from justice to revenge?
Am I comfortable  with that switch?
How about when some people view it as justice but others view it as revenge?
Am I asking people to live with making terrible choices in order to have a more comfortable and secure life?
Do our leaders know how and when to stop or change a decision they have made?
Is there anything more important to a political leader than “saving face”?
When we say that we “have to show our enemies that we mean business” is that true? Is that right? Are there other options?

I can’t answer these questions. And I’m not really sure that I should be able to. As is sometimes true in life, the questions and the act of wrestling with them, are more important than the conclusion I find. But I do know that a movie this narrow cannot be used as the sole basis for reaching any answer. I cannot and will not decide that America is a horrible nation based on the small slice I saw on the widescreen.  I cannot and will not decide that America made all the right decisions based on the small slice I saw on the widescreen.

Which leaves me exactly where I was before this film – having to trust in people in positions of power to protect our nation and promote inalienable rights while I go about my daily errands and nightly rest.

(Although the thoughts above are my own, I did read quite a few reviews recently and my thoughts were definitely influenced by them and some of my comments were informed by their clearer insight and better writing. So assume that anything that sounded especially thought-provoking or insightful was culled from actual movie reviewers.)

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