Alabama’s football team watched Zero Dark Thirty to get themselves psyched up for the big game against Notre Dame on Sunday night. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s depiction of the hunt for Osama bin Laden must have been inspiring stuff, because the Crimson Tide went on to overwhelm the Fighting Irish 42 to 14 in one of the most watched games in history.
But not all people find the film to be the stuff of glory and excitement. Zero Dark Thirty includes graphic depictions of CIA torture and abuse, while making the case that water-boarding and other abusive tactics produced actionable information leading to Osama bin Laden’s capture. It all but says that torture, torture and only torture is the reason that the United States was able to catch the al-Qaeda leader.
While proclaiming up front that it is based on “first-hand accounts of actual events,” this gross distortion of the truth comes as the European Court of Human Rights condemned the CIA’s torture and abuse of an innocent man (Khaled El-Masri) and the human rights community gathers to mark 11 years of torture, abuse and lawlessness at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saw an advance copy of the film and panned it, saying Zero Dark Thirty was “terrible.” But she was no self-styled Roger Ebert commenting on the cinematography or the editing. She had fundamental beef with the movie, remarking that “It is a combination of fact, fiction and Hollywood in a very dangerous combination.” She then added, “Based on what I know, I don’t believe it is true.” Two thumbs down!
John McCain (R-AZ), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, saw the film too. A survivor of torture during the Vietnam War, the senator said he was “sickened” watching the Oscar nominated film. He continued, saying: “It’s wrong. It’s wrong. I know for a fact, not because of this report — my own knowledge — that waterboarding, torture, does not lead to reliable information … in any case.” Along with Armed Services Chair Carl Levin (D-MI), the senators are taking their case to the CIA and the public in a series of strongly worded letters demanding more information about the Agency’s interactions with the filmmakers and the role of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the search for Osama bin Laden.
D.C.’s Newseum hosted a red carpet premier of the film earlier this week. But the sleek Hollywood types were joined by a throng of orange jumpsuit clad demonstrators who projected “Torture is Wrong” on the front of the building and held signs and banners. Chrissy Nesbitt told told a reporter why she was there: “Torture is a moral issue because the only purpose of torture is to break a human being. That can never be justified. As for the argument that torture is sometimes necessary to get valuable information — Sen. John McCain speaks for most of us at the vigil when he says that torture does not, in fact, lead to accurate, useful information. I hope that by being there at the D.C. opening of the film, we were able to awaken people’s moral consciousness before they went in to see a movie that is so centered around torture.”
In Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA’s chief interrogator says “everyone breaks in the end… it’s biology.” That is what torture does, it breaks people. But that is not the end, because people are more than biology, more than broken and they go on living. For help awakening your moral consciousness on the issue of torture, go see Beneath the Blindfold, a new film by Kathy Berger and Ines Sommer. The documentary relates the harrowing experiences of four survivors of torture from around the world — Liberia, Colombia, Guatemala and the United States — as they try to heal and continue to live despite being broken and scarred.
The film is not the kind that will bludgeon and batter a college football team to frenzy and victory, but it speaks the truth of four strong, broken, healing, human beings who have suffered unbelievable pain at the hands of others and still find reasons to continue living and loving. As we look down the long road of torture, we need these human stories to carry on.
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I thought it was a great film because it shows the USA army breaking the Geneva conflict yet gets the audience to cheer them on to do it, actually creating, not just demonstrating, society’s complicity. (Even i was worried the protagonists would get shot.) Never since have i heard this mentioned though – was i wrong? Is the scene, in which a retreating or whose weapon is not visible (therefore breaking Geneva convention) ‘talib’ or afghan, the last of an attacking group, the ‘hero’ of the film delegates the decision whether to shoot or not to the most junior team member of the besieged americans, who shoots him, as i interpreted it?
There is an interesting article debating the merits of movie violence and exploitation films over at the Onion AV Club that offers some pretty fascinating insights into how pop culture nerds grapple with this issue. On the subject of Zero Dark Thirty one critic says the haters are missing the point:
Another critic, who is much more opposed to movie violence, particularly that of Django Unchained agrees, saying:
What do folks think? Are anti-torture activists and advocates missing the point by focusing on just the first few minutes of the film? Is there an underlying message that revenge isn’t worth the death count? Are we missing an opportunity to let Hollywood make the anti-war/torture argument for us?
Having not seen the film, I can’t really say. But like these critics seem to insinuate, my predisposed bias against torture has made me less inclined to want to see the film. And therefore, I’m probably missing a chance to engage in conversation with friends who have seen it, and aren’t as concerned as I am about violence in the world. Ugh, what to do?
I tend to think that the subtleties don’t exonerate a film like this (or the culture that produced it). Just as Wall Street, a movie meant to be critical of business culture, inspired so many young men to join its ranks, the impact of Zero Dark Thirty will more than likely be to confirm many people in the general tendencies of our violent culture that it portrays. The very fact that immediately after Bin Laden’s death books and films immediately appear from all sides about it tells our young that such acts of assassination are important; they deserve to be depicted and obsessed about. Even their uglier parts are not objects of embarrassment, for portraying them helps acclimate us to our own brutality.
Meanwhile, we are still waiting for films about Afghans and Pakistanis and Americans who oppose and resist war, because they are considered unimportant.
I completely agree that we need more movies depicting and celebrating alternatives and resistance to all modes of oppression, be it capitalism or US foreign policy. (I actually wrote about that the last time Tarantino came out with a gory revenge flick). But I also think we need to be able to find perhaps those small moments in the big mainstream blockbusters when they briefly hover on the perspective we support, and exploit those moments to our benefit. There were some nice instances of that with Avatar, even though, in general I thought the film was kind of atrocious.
“…the culture that produced it…”
I see this culture as the corruption brought from the old World within the last 150 years which fed and brought to the country the very vices of today, with torture among them.
While I’m not certain about the paragraph above, I’m clear in that there were foundational changes to this country in the years after the Civil War, and those changes were the wrong ones for the most part. Note my use of the word “foundational” as to what I refer to as that being changed before any of us were born.
As I’ve discarded political affiliations completely, and follow no set or stated agenda, I view the country independent from that of the common American citizen who still clings to what I have discarded.
Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, or other, please rid yourselves of these viewpoints.
And, to be fair and balanced, but also true to myself, all of the current cultures in this country are equally in need massive revisions, or outright rejection – they belong in the past.
It’s called artistic expression. You may not like the content of the film and that’s your right as is your right to protest. Don’t go see it but I think you should.
Many other’s will because the film isn’t about torture, it is about the hunt for and bringing the murderer of 3,000 Americans to justice.
It portrays historical events sort of the way Hollywood did in the film “Lincoln.” Having seen ZDT today, I didn’t see any glorification of torture in the film. I will say that those scenes were difficult to watch though.
BTW, Water Boarding as a form of torture was invented by the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisition to force non-Christians into changing faiths. Interesting historical fact don’t you think? Perhaps you can go protest in from of the Vatican next?
More than a decade after 9/11, WAT seems as relevant as a buggy whip. Showing up in orange jumpsuits with hoods only makes those who wear the orange jumpsuits and hoods feel good about protesting.
But just as the CIA was tenacious about tracking OBL, you should keep focused on Gitmo – nobody else is.
And what if there was only silence. January 11th comes and goes, Guantanamo in its second decade is a fixture of American life, and no comment?
>> BTW, Water Boarding as a form of torture was invented by the Roman Catholic Church during the Inquisition to force non-Christians into changing faiths. Interesting historical fact don’t you think? Perhaps you can go protest in from of the Vatican next?
If the Vatican was still doing torture, I’s certainly join protests in St Peter’s Square. But the Vatican gave up that sport of things a long, long time ago.
there’s a lot to be said for proofreading before posting… that paragraph should read:
If the Vatican was still doing torture, I’d certainly join protests in St Peter’s Square. But the Vatican gave up that sort of things a long, long time ago.
Unless you are numb to the sins of the Church you will agree that child rape is torture.
Especially, when it is hidden and predator priests are allowed to roam the countryside for new victims with the Church’s blessings.
An intriguing proposal from Bell Thomas in a comment on Facebook:
The right to keep and bear ball-and-powder, breach-loading arms shall not be infringed!
Three cheers for the prevailing values of the Berrigan family! And another three cheers for filmmakers like Berger and Sommer whose “Beneath the Blindfold” needs to be on everyone’s MUST SEE list….. especially the producers and actors in “Zero Dark Thirty”.
The word “actionable” in law means “subject to or affording ground for an action or suit at law”. Arguably illegal.
At the risk of repeating what I have said elsewhere ( but with NO apology since our society is so deaf to it) THE END NEVER JUSTIFIES THE MEANS!!! God bless all the Berrigans and all those others who understand this concept.
Violence and hate only beget in their own kind.
We should never have been in the Middle East to begin with.
Why don’t they produce a movie as to WHY the attacks of September 11th took place? What made these people hate the United States. What did the United States do in the Middle East to infuriate so many?
Where was a declaration of war?
Why isn’t a movie made about why Pat Tillman was murdered?
The military, the banks, the insurance companies and the energy companies run our country and the World.