Zero Dark Thirty

Michele and I saw Zero Dark Thirty Sunday night and we liked it alot. I was prepared to not like it, because of the torture controversy, and my general lack of enthusiasm for Hurt Locker (which won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, so what do I know). The best way I can describe the picture is that it is gritty and dense. I have never been to Pakistan – and, apparently, the picture hasn’t either having been filmed in  Jordan and India, which pissed off both the Pakistanis and Indians – but the movie fit my imagined picture of Pakistan exactly.

Driving through the streets of Lahore, it seemed like they were either using thousands of extras or they really were there. I loved Django Unchained  and Argo but, compared to Zero Dark Thirty, they seemed like cartoons shot on a set. Zero Dark Thirty seemed like the real deal. It was thrilling and, at the end, the audience cheered the winning team. Our Team! And I think that may be a problem.

The movie, sort of, presents itself as a documentary or fictionized documentary like Truman Capote’s True Blood. But it is not the real deal. It is not an objective look at what happened and today I am a little hung over from feeling so good while I watched the movie. There are several people who say it better than me, Jane Mayer and Matt Taibbi for example, and I think that I can best serve my point by giving a couple of quotes.

From Jane Mayer: In addition to providing false advertising for waterboarding, “Zero Dark Thirty” endorses torture in several other subtle ways. At one point, the film’s chief C.I.A. interrogator claims, without being challenged, that “everyone breaks in the end,” adding, “it’s biology.” Maybe that’s what they think in Hollywood, but experts on the history of torture disagree. Indeed, many prisoners have been tortured to death without ever revealing secrets, while many others—including some of those who were brutalized during the Bush years—have fabricated disinformation while being tortured. Some of the disinformation provided under duress during those years, in fact, helped to lead the U.S. into the war in Iraq under false premises.

From Matt Taibbi: Mohammed Al-Qatani, the so-called “20th hijacker,” who may have been some part of the inspiration for the “Ammar” character who was tortured in the opening scene, might have been the first detainee to mention the name of bin Laden’s courier. But as Gibney points out, al-Qatani gave that information up to the FBI, in legit, torture-free interrogations, before he was whisked away to Gitmo for 49 days of torture that included such insanities as forcing him to urinate on himself (by force-feeding him liquids while in restraints), making him watch a puppet show of him and bin Laden having sex, making him take dance lessons, making him wear panties on his head, and making him wear a “smiley-face” mask, along with the usual sleep and sensory deprivation, arm-hanging, etc. In other words, the key info may have come before they chucked our supposed standards for human decency.

In the end, nursing my post movie hangover, the, movie makes me a little sad.

and one quote…From Jane Mayer: Knowing the real facts—the ones that led the European Court of Human Rights to condemn America for torture this week—I had trouble enjoying the movie. I’ve interviewed Khaled El-Masri, the German citizen whose suit the E.C.H.R. adjudicated. He turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, an innocent car salesman whom the C.I.A. kidnapped and held in a black-site prison for four months, and who was “severely beaten, sodomized, shackled, and hooded.” What Masri lived through was so harrowing that, when I had a cup of coffee with him, a few years ago, he couldn’t describe it to me without crying. Maybe I care too much about all of this to enjoy it with popcorn. But maybe the creators of “Zero Dark Thirty” should care a little bit more.


2 thoughts on “Zero Dark Thirty

  1. I was tortured for almost 3 years by the FBI and their friends only
    because 85 years old man, Roland H Sibens(chicago), now he is 88,convinced them that I
    am a terrorist. I was tortured for working on my prosthetic legs in
    the basement. I done absolutely nothing illegal or wrong. They thought
    that in theory it is possible to hide bomb in them. They saw an
    opportunity to get famous, so they were trying to torture me till I
    sign their insane story. They tortured me using more than 100
    different torturing methods and trust to me waterboarding is not how
    they torture nowadays. I dont know where to find justice.

    I think that after 9/11 things got out of control. Freedom fighters
    became tyrants. In 1945, most Germans had an opportunity to learn about Nazis death
    camps. I hope that one day American citizens will get chance to learn about people
    like me, who were tortured with no reason for years.

  2. I read Matt Taibbi’s article after we got home last night and he also says that he really enjoyed the film at first:

    On the way home I felt buzzed and high, like one always does after seeing a great film

    so I don’t feel to bad about having really enjoyed it as a movie.

    But with regards to the torture controversy, what I remember is the movie showed that the information that led to the courier was obtained after the “Ammar” character had been tortured, but only after “Maya” got the idea that they could lie to him about what they had gotten already and feed him figs and dates, and then he would open up. Like somehow that wasn’t the result of the torture. That bothered me.

    And I did keep expecting some mention of a death during torture. I guess that didn’t fit with the plot.

    I just hope it does not win the Oscar for best picture, no matter how good it was as a film. If we want to applaud great work by the CIA, lets reward Argo instead.

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