Zero Dark Thirty

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

I didn’t see Zero Dark Thirty, but from the hype I’ve gathered that the only two things I need to know are that it may or may not justify torture; and that it’s made by a woman and has a strong female lead.

My point here is not the movie, but the fact that those are the two publicly agreed upon things to talk about.  They are inextricably linked.  Only a movie made by a woman could get away with asking (neutrally, of course) if torture is necessary; only a strong female character can get away with supervising it, because the assumption is she doesn’t enjoy it, she’s doing what she has to do, her lack of privileged status in the world is precisely what gives her the privilege to use torture when needed.  Put a man in that role, and either it becomes an action movie, or too obviously approving of it.

In the real world, the government’s official position that torture was not used comes with a parallel, covalently bonded story: while we don’t know the identity of the real “Maya”, the one thing that is publicized about her is that she sent a mass email to the CIA complaining that… she didn’t want to share any of the credit.  It was all her.

That’s the point: the only way to get people to accept torture in real life is through the backdoor of showing a woman did it first. 

Related posts:

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  2. So-Called Feminism in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  3. Katy Perry is silly, Naomi Wolf Is Completely Insane
  4. “I refuse to be a supporting Character”
  5. If I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind passing a law against it!

6 Responses to Zero Dark Thirty

  1. sonyat says:

    Oh come on. Why should “feminists” do better? Men can enjoy a good revenge fantasy and we can’t? And let’s not forget that man envisioned this particular revenge anyway. It IS an action movie, what else would it be? As unrealistic as a rich orphan dressed up as a bat — EXACTLY. And we shouldn’t have a female version of that absurdity, why?

  2. ThePoliticalOmnivore says:

    Maya’s acceptance and nominal participation in the on-screen torture plays against stereotype (maternal) in a way that I think Bigelow both understands and exploits (as the director of the movie it *also* plays against maternal stereotype: we keep waiting for a moral judgment against torture which never comes). I suspect, however, that it was this frission that was sought less so than the “making it okay” explanation.

    People are talking about those points because they are *jarring” when taken together. It confounds easy compartmentalization. It’s not accidental and it caused a lot of difficulty in the Hollywood discussions.

    Just look at her interview statements on how the movie doesn’t glorify torture. She’s right: it doesn’t. She artfully evades the point: it glorifies tortures. Here’s my review of the politics:

  3. DataShade says:

    I dunno, the complaints I’d read about ZD30 were basically that the movie never actually got around to asking if torture was necessary; it just sort of shoved it out there and made you stare at it for a while.

    To the extent that you can make the case that the movie poses the question, it’s worth remembering that Bigelow got the facts of when and upon whom torture was used, creating a film that asserts torture was at least potentially necessary – when in fact the torture victim had given up the name that eventually led to Osama bin Laden some weeks or months before being tortured.

    And maybe everyone – Bigelow, her backers, the film reviewers, the national security experts, the constitutional scholars and everyone else who weighed in – were all playing some kind of fifty-player 10th-dimensional chess, but all the interviews from Bigelow and her people before the review copies of the film went out were all gushy “we’re so happy to have made this film, it’s like a theatrical documentary, it’s so accurate,” and then as soon as people who hadn’t spent the last two years getting a walking tour from CIA and Pentagon officials got a look at the film and started recoiling in horror, then it turned into a “well, you just don’t like it because you’re sexist.”

    Obviously we’ll never know what happened in every CIA interrogation, or what happened in the minds of Kathryn Bieglow or her critics, but I’ve been reading TLP long enough to feel confident I can spot when someone’s hunkered down in ego-defense.

    • DataShade says:

      Lost a word there “Bigelow got wrong the facts of when and upon whom torture was used”

  4. Pooka says:

    Interesting timing, for post, given Thatcher’s death, and her trailblazer status for unleashing the glory of monetarism on a Britain which has never really recovered.

    Two points:

    (1) A smart film called ‘Unthinkable’ did ask whether torture was necessary (framed with the classic ticking bomb scenario, but taking it to the full extent of the question. How far would you go? Chopping of fingers? Dentistry? Taking out his wife? Torturing his kids?) Directed by a bloke – but, in deference to your post, and despite name cast (Samuel L. Jackson, etc.) it didn’t get mainstream distribution.

    (2) It’s been argued by some commentators that the model for ZDT’s agent was in fact responsible for the kidnapping and torture of an entirely innocent man because she spelled the suspect’s name wrong. Whoops! They missed that in the film.

  5. BluegrassJack says:

    The third thing that TLP should know is that ZD30 was directed by a woman who had previously directed The Hurt Locker, which also dealt with the US Army making war against terror.

    Bigelow’s former husband directed the movie Avatar which depicted the American military making war against the environment.