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Odds and Ends: Zero Dark Thirty (Again) and Amour

zdt

I’ve now seen Zero Dark Thirty three times and not only has it grown in power and resonance with each viewing, I have also become increasingly incensed by the ridiculous controversy surrounding the movie’s depiction of torture (which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, its detractors claim it endorses). Actor David Clennon (thirtysomething), a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, recently announced he would not be voting for it in any category at the upcoming Oscars because the film “never acknowledges that torture is immoral and criminal.” Martin Sheen and Ed Asner, among others, have also publicly joined Clennon in this boycott. Well, I suppose they’re right about Zero Dark Thirty to the extent that it features no lines of dialogue in which a character acknowledges the immorality or criminality of the torture being practiced. But, I would argue that Bigelow, being a true visual artist, also understands the crucial importance of showing instead of telling. How do I know ZDT isn’t pro-torture? First, let’s acknowledge that Reda Kateb, the great Arabic actor who plays Ammar, the man being tortured, lends the character dignity (which is more than the actors playing the one-dimensional baddies in the non-controversial Argo are allowed to do), and this is equally true of Homayoun Ershadi (the lead in Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry) who plays another detainee. More importantly, even if the movie showed that “torture worked,” which it doesn’t, even if Ammar had blurted out bin Laden’s address while being waterboarded, ZDT would still not be pro-torture because the overall tone of the torture scene is pathetic. Kathryn Bigelow has said that she wishes torture was “not part of that history” and her attitude is reflected in many subtle decisions she makes in terms of composition and editing: in the torture scene, notice the reaction shots of Jessica Chastain’s Maya recoiling in disgust, or the way a tear involuntarily falls down Ammar’s face as soon as he starts drinking from a juice bottle, or the quick close-up of Ammar clutching the bottle tight against his chest as if he’s afraid that Dan, his CIA “interrogator,” is going to take it away from him. If anything, viewers are asked to identify with Ammar over the unlikable Dan, whom Ammar calls “an animal” and whom the filmmakers have pointedly tricked out with frat-boy mannerisms (he calls people “bro” and references kung-fu movies and Bob Marley). There’s an irony, I suppose, in the way Clennon and his ilk imply they could’ve conceivably enjoyed the very same movie if only the filmmakers had bothered to have a CIA character say something as simple as “This torture business is terrible. We were wrong to do it!” Fortunately for the rest of us, Bigelow doesn’t believe in making movies for the dumbest members of her audience.

amour

Speaking of torture, the execrable phrase “torture porn,” which has entered the unofficial critical lexicon to describe a relatively recent subgenre of the horror film, did run through my mind while watching Michael Haneke’s Amour. This movie’s primary reason for being is apparently to make the audience suffer as much as possible by not only showing the inexorable physical and mental decay of a stroke-addled old woman but stretching it out for a near-pornographic eternity. In a way, it’s a shame I can’t recommend it; the lead actors (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) aren’t just great performers, they’re iconic symbols of a heroic era in French film history. I mean, a love story about an octogenarian married couple where the man is played by the lead from My Night at Maud’s and the woman is played by the lead from Hiroshima Mon Amour? Who could screw that up? Austrian miserabilist Michael Haneke, that’s who. The only Haneke films I had previously seen were the original version of Funny Games and The Piano Teacher, both of which turned me off because of what I perceived as their hypocritical mixture of titillation and moralizing. Amour has been regarded in some quarters as a more “mature” version of Haneke but it seems to me he’s really only substituted euthanasia here for the violence in Funny Games and the sex in The Piano Teacher. This wouldn’t be so offensive if Haneke were more upfront about what he was doing. But never in cinema’s history has a filmmaker tried so hard to hit the viewer with a sledgehammer while simultaneously trying so hard to pretend that’s not what he was doing. Haneke is like a more dishonest version of Lars Von Trier (who at least acknowledges his role in rubbing your face in unpleasantness) in that he’s much more careful about stacking the deck when it comes to punishing the audience – notice how Trintignant’s Georges isn’t just a good husband, faithfully devoted to his wife, but impossibly good, flawless, and practically saintlike? Contrast this with the way a truly great director like Leo McCarey presents a more complex, human and heartbreaking dynamic in his similarly-themed masterpiece Make Way for Tomorrow by having his elderly protagonists occasionally behave in ways that are kind of annoying. Pauline Kael once derisively used the phrase “a clean pornographer” to describe Stanley Kubrick but that’s a description that I think better suits the morally and intellectually bankrupt Haneke, a master of exploitation who always hides his visions of human nastiness beneath the alluring veneer of high culture. I hated, hated, hated Amour.

Amour Rating: 4.9

haneke

(While I can’t endorse Amour, I can highly recommend this parody twitter account for Haneke. This is the funniest thing on the internet: https://twitter.com/Michael_Haneke)

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

27 responses to “Odds and Ends: Zero Dark Thirty (Again) and Amour

  • jilliemae

    I always appreciate that you’re willing to deconstruct that which is popular, even if your opinions aren’t popular.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks, Jill, but do you mean my defense of ZERO DARK THIRTY or my criticisms of AMOUR? I’m assuming the latter since both Ethan and Stacy (not to mention every critic in the world) loved AMOUR. As you know, I have yet a third piece about ZERO DARK THIRTY in the works (not about torture) inspired by our post-screening discussion. I will be thanking you and Stacy in the intro!

  • Alfred Markut Jr. (@ocWavean)

    The issue isn’t necessarily that the film is pro-torture, but rather it ignores the elephant in the room; That the main central pieces of intelligence were gathered only via torture, which led to not only bad intelligence, but it almost derailed the quest to put down al-Qaeda.

    ZDT is misleading because it does what the Bush Administration (and to an extent, the Obama Administrator) did not do. Toward the Third Act, a CIA official complains at a round table that there are no other working groups concentration on al-Qaeda (that is, other than a handful of field officers around said table). But, he does not mention that the Administration ran off to Iraq, and closed down the Usama Bin Laden (UBL) desk at the CIA. Or, is bad intelligence admitted, which was ONLY gathered via torture, help send the States on a goose chase through.

    The biggest gripe is how Bigelow captured Maya — how is she supposed to be perceived? On the one hand, she’s against torture (the opening scene), but then with a flick of the switch, she’s now wearing a hijab and having henchmen punch detainees on command. This even trickles into her relationship with Jessica — It’s understood they don’t like each other, and then all of a sudden, they’re buddy-buddy (and talking nonchalantly as a drone strike goes on).

    If this film did anything, it’s that it painted a bleak picture of Middle Easterners, and if that was the end films message (that the USA are evil people) then UBL won. The veil of American intelligence was stripped away, and a powerful, evil, ignorant nation was revealed.

    But, the fact that we’re talking so vehemently about a film, especially one that is nominated (and not without omission or vocal outcry) for best picture. And for that, I will always love your blog.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for the kind words, Alfred.

      I understand your points about what the film did NOT flesh out but it is already 2 hours and 37 minutes long and jam-packed with information. There would really be no way of showing that “torture leads to bad intelligence” without creating at least one entirely new subplot and at that point it would have to be two movies or a mini-series or something. The film already shows that torture is ineffectual (e.g., Ammar refuses to give up information that would’ve prevented the attack in Saudi Arabia) and that’s good enough for me. Also, there IS a glancing retrospective reference to “running off to Iraq” and it’s made in an extremely negative light (something like “I was in the room when your former boss pitched WMD Iraq . . .,” which basically acknowledges that that war was founded on faulty “intelligence”).

      As far as not knowing how Maya is to be perceived, I think that ambiguity is one of the film’s strengths. We are supposed to admire her because she’s good at her job, she’s determined and she’s a tough woman in the “boys’ club” of the CIA but, at the same time, she does become more complicit in “enhanced interrogation” as the film goes on (as you acknowledge). There is something both heroic and sad about her obsession with finding bin Laden, the only job she’s ever done, and one for which she was recruited directly out of high school. Why does she cry at the end? Because she has pent-up emotions that she hasn’t allowed herself to express? Because she’s relieved the hunt is over? Or because the constant striving that gave her life meaning is now gone and there’s nothing to fill the void? This is pretty much the same ambivalence that Bigelow and Boal show towards Sgt. James in The Hurt Locker (who was also obsessed with his job but was never going to be a good husband or father or even fit into mainstream society).

  • Susan Doll

    I still contend that this brouhaha has more to do with gender than torture. If Bigelow had the insider backing of a Spielberg, Clooney, or a Weinstein to set the tone of the discourse, I don’t think the grumblings about torture would have gotten this far. As an independent on her own, she’s out their flapping in the wind with no moral support from the industry.

    And, I disagree with those who contend that the main pieces of info came from torture. It was part of the fabric of the investigation as presented in the movie, but in the montage of Maya reviewing the recordings of the interviews in which the name of the courier is mentioned, at least half of the prisoners simply gave up the name in an interview. They are all detainees, but not all of them needed to be tortured to reveal information. Because all of this is shown in one montage, I suspect viewers are assuming all the detainees were tortured to get the info.

    And, didn’t the main terrorist who was tortured give up the name only after Maya and the Jason Clarke character trick him into thinking they know more than they do? That would suggest that it was brains over brawn that resulted in the lead. I am not sure I am right about this. It was tricky in the beginning to keep track of the all of the info and what it mean.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Suzi, thanks for stopping by and bringing up a couple of good points. First, you are correct that Ammar only gives up the name of the courier when he’s been tricked into believing that he had already given up other valuable info under sleep deprivation. This occurs over tabouleh and hummus.

      I agree it’s unfortunate that the discourse surrounding the movie has focused completely on torture when that’s only one small (albeit important) part of the movie. The only reason I wanted to write more about why it’s not “pro-torture” is that the controversy isn’t going away in the media and I feel like there needs to be more voices countering the critics by citing specific examples from the film. The controversy, unfortunately, is hurting ZDT. I just finished my first week of classes for the spring semester and very few of my students have seen it. I’ve heard a lot of them say things along the lines of “I heard it was propaganda.” It’s kind of amazing that it’s the number one movie in the country but I guess it’s mostly people over 30 who are going to see it.

      Finally, thanks for pointing out that ZDT is an independent film! It’s funny that a lot of critics see it as some kind of unholy alliance between Hollywood and the CIA when, in reality, it was financed completely outside of the studio system and probably never could’ve been produced by a Hollywood studio.

  • Bherz

    Yeah – I didn’t think Zero Dark came across as pro-torture. From what I know about the CIA and torture (not a whole lot), water-boarding and other tactics (playing heavy metal, sleep deprivation) have been used by various administrations, and the film just tried to show them accurately. I MUCH prefer to be given scenes like this, nakedly and viscerally, as opposed to with ominous theme music playing. I actually disagree that the character of Dan comes across as unlikeable and like an “animal”, but more just does what you’d think an interrogator would do in those situations. I thought the film as a whole did a good job of leaving an “unsettling” feeling. When the credits rolled I had this weird sense that people wanted to clap (great film), but that it would be disrespectful to do so, or something like that. Remember when the Obama administration announced that they’d taken down Osama? A lot of people celebrated — there’s this great American patriotism like “we’d got him.” As this post and others have pointed out, that’s definitely not what the film communicates. Just a small thing — but I liked that there was never a close-up of Osama’s face. That would have gone too far.

    On another note — I just read a commentary lauding Bigelow’s microscopic look at all the tiny movements in a given scene: loading CDs to view interrogation footage, when the CIA agent asks Maya to “sit back there” before the CIA director enters, conversations in hallways where things like who walks away first and who pauses during the conversation, etc. take on a meaning and build suspense. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I liked it. The actual review said: “The first three-quarters of “Zero Dark Thirty” are precise and clinical, almost to a Le Carre-like degree, and the movie’s fixation on detail becomes hypnotic rather than boring.” http://www.film.com/movies/zero-dark-thirty-review

    It also occurred to me that the film presents a totally “American” or “Western” encapsulation of the manhunt for Osama. That seems deliberate. There was virtually NO discussion/commentary/exploration of what your average Pakistani thought about what the Americans were doing. I guess that could be a criticism, but not, in the sense that the film presented a totally isolated, self-contained group of characters and themes (or just Maya) that were so hell-bent on getting Osama. Like when the CIA director asks Maya whether she’s worked on anything else, and she says “No, nothing else.” The point being — the film wasn’t supposed to take on a multi-cultural or otherwise “broad” look at the different dynamics of the hunt.

    All that said, it’s hard not to, just a little, “root” for the American team while watching. Again that could be a criticism, but it probably manifests what some or most Americans deep-down thought when Osama was killed. Maybe the movie makes you ask, “Are you rooting for this?”

  • deltamysterywriter

    THANK YOU. I HATE AMOUR and LOVED ZERO DARK THIRTY.
    I would rather have beaten my head against a brick wall for 139 minutes than suffered through this interminable, dull, depressing, unemotional film. When we left the theatre, I made my husband promise to kill me immediately before I reached this stage of my life. For the record, I am not a young person. I am happily married. But if you are considering seeing this movie, save your money. Visit the stroke ward of your nearest nursing home.

  • Liz Ferguson

    Hello
    After reading a few reviews of Amour I was relatively certain that I knew how it would turn out and that I would not like it. Richard Brody’s review only strengthened that belief. Now, after reading your review, I know for sure that Amour is not for me. It reminds me of the reaction to Precious. Many people raved about it, but I thought it was awful. (“Misery porn.”) Here’s a link to Brody’s review of Amour, in case you have not seen it.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2013/01/michael-hanekes-amour-reviewed-by-richard-brody.html#commentAnchor_nyr_2000000002083996

  • My Blog is Three-Years-Old | White City Cinema

    […] New Zealand/USA, 2012) – 4.7 The Cabin in the Woods (Goddard, USA, 2011) – 4.8 Amour (Haneke, Austria/France, 2012) – […]

  • Top Ten Films of 2013 | White City Cinema

    […] Has it ever been less intellectually fashionable to love a movie that was so critically and commercially successful? Or, to put it another way, has there ever been a case where the vociferous objections of cultural commentators generated way more noise than anything film critics had to say in shaping how the dialogue about a movie played out in the public arena? I saw this astonishing film, director Kathryn Bigelow’s best, three times in the theater, then gladly watched it again after purchasing the Sony Blu-ray, and felt shaken to the core after every viewing. It depresses the hell out of me that I know some smart cinephiles, even some who liked The Hurt Locker, who nonetheless stayed away from this dark and brooding meditation on the cost of our “invisible war” out of fear that it was spiking-the-football propaganda (to borrow a phrase from President Obama). Remember, folks: torture isn’t morally wrong depending on whether it does or does not get results for those who practice it. It’s morally wrong, period (as Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal do actually show). Jessica Chastain, who puts a human face on — and provides an emotional center for — the very public and global story of the decade-long manhunt around which these debates swirled, gives a performance that is nothing less than phenomenal. The final, ambiguous close-up of her face, tears streaming down her cheeks, haunts me to this day. Full review here. More thoughts here and here. […]

  • Ali

    Just in the context of torture, I thought this film was disturbing and gruel to watch. When the Americans are torturing the Middle Easterns for example. It doesnt matter which side your on or who it is. Even though its just a film at the end of it and they are all just actors playing roles, its just not fun to watch. And this movie was based on a true person and current events so it suggests that it could’ve happened in reality which is very gut wrenching to watch because it feels and looks real and it just doesnt send the right message to the audience about whats really going on in a controversial dangerous matter or topic. I just thought it was unnecessary and they couldve used different ways to send a message. They didnt have to make the movie so torturing to the audience. In my opinion, I’d rather see a happy or funny film instead of a torturous one like this.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Ali, your comments are so insubstantial that I can’t give you any credit for this assignment. What you’re saying boils down to “This was disturbing and therefore I don’t want to see it.” You didn’t take into consideration that perhaps the filmmakers felt a moral responsibility to make the torture disturbing precisely because it happened in real life. If you’d like to try again — and really dig into the ethical debates swirling around the film’s depiction of torture — then I’ll still give you credit. It would help if your comments were written in response to some of the specifics of my original blog post.

  • Ali

    Mr. Smith, I thought the assignment was to generally give an opinion or review about the movie like how we discuss in class. I was just freely giving my opinion or review about the movie whether i generally liked it or not if you want to know what the audience thinks. Thats why i posted in the torture review. In my opinion, honestly I just dont simply like watching torturing movies. I just read your original blog post now. And in response to that, I think in my opinion, even if the director purposefully didnt acknowledge torturing in the movie to make it realistic, or for some reason etc. Even if she did acknowledge it, I dont think it means the audience is necessarily dumb because it also depends on who the audience is. And Maybe shes just showing heart or spirit.

    • michaelgloversmith

      I’m not sure what you mean by “give an opinion . . . like how we discuss in class.” I am always striving to steer class discussion away from opinion and more towards an objective analysis of the film in question, no? That you don’t like watching “torturing movies” is completely irrelevant to your homework. Perhaps if you had shown up on time yesterday — when I was first going over the assignment — you would be less confused about it. If you’d like to continue this discussion, please e-mail me directly: msmith@oakton.edu. Thanks.

  • brianbaik

    When it comes down to the subject of the film being “torture porn” I find it as a ridiculously shallow opinion that oversimplifies a film that has as many layers as a Thanksgiving dinner. It is an opinion that only sees in black and white. The beauty of this film is that it is so incredibly dense and lives in the gray area of storytelling. I believe the media created a firestorm about the film’s interrogation scenes due to the public’s lack of education towards what is happening around the world. The war soldiers are fighting overseas do not hit home with a lot of individuals, on a daily basis, because its out of sight and out of mind besides what is seen on the news. We Americans have our opinions molded by the opinions of the news outlets around us. My sister spent a year in Israel and traveling to Palestine. She has told me many stories of how Palestinians she aided just wanted basic civil liberties to be able to live their lives. One cannot ever truly know what is going on without first hand experiences in the field. I am not exempt from this either as I have not had these personal first hand experiences either. In fact, I always try to avoid sharing my opinions on political topics because I feel that without showing actions to back my opinion all I am doing is blowing hot smoke and wasting breath in a vicious cycle of argument with any individual I am debating with.

    Anyways to get back on topic, I would have lost so much respect for the film if it had its dialogue mutilated with comments about how “torture is bad”. Of course torture is bad, but a fact of the time was that individuals WERE being interrogated very roughly at the time. As the film progresses forward, in the timeline, it even acknowledges that as administrations in Congress changed, and public pressure increased, the interrogation policies had been changed due to the public scrutiny that came from the public finding out what had been happening in places like Guantanamo Bay. There WAS a time where torture was happening and to pretend it did not happen or that individuals involved in these programs weren’t conditioned and trained to be objective to the cruelty that they were bestowing on prisoners would be a disservice to the public.

    As your article states, Bigelow is one that shows instead of telling, which is key in any discourse whether one is writing a story, or in any art form. Throughout the interrogation scenes one can emphasize with Ammar’s being broken down to subhuman levels. You can feel how that one cigarette he is offered or the morsel of food he is offered for the return of information as premiums in a state of which he has no options. One can even see the distain and horror Jessica Chastain’s character feels as she witnesses Ammar being tortured. Even in the raid on UBL’s compound the killing of UCL isn’t shown as a glorious moment in US history. Bigelow does a great job by keeping UCL’s face hidden as to put a face on UCL would make him a tangible enemy. I feel that she probably did this to show that despite his death, he is still only a single man. As if with his death nothing has changed… the world keeps spinning and horrible things will continue to happen. The icing on the cake is when the crew member of the flight Chastain’s character comments how she must be important as she has every seat on the plane to herself. She proceeds to cry some of the post powerful tears i’ve seen on screen and you, as a viewer, are left with ambiguous emptiness in your heart and an unsettled mind.

    There are my two cents. Its time to go decompress before my brain explodes thinking about the oversimplification of this film. I hate when any current event is shown as black and white. THE TRUTH IN ANYTHING IS ALWAYS IN THE GRAY AREA PEOPLE! I am so glad you decided to show us this film as I would of never of seen it otherwise.

    Cheers,
    Brian Baik

  • mtapia2779

    Its my first time watching this film and for me I didn’ t see nothing wrong that Kathryn Bigelow had this scene of Dan torturing Ammar, I’m not approving that an interrogator should use this method in order to get the information they need, I think Kathryn just wanted to show us a bit of how things happen. Torture has existed for a long time not only for interrogations but wasn’t this the method used many years ago with Jesus Christ he was torture to DEATH? So what I think about torture is that it should be done but unfortunately it still exist. Another thing Kathryn also showed that Maya was able to get Ammar to speak without beating him up.

  • mtapia2779

    On my last sentence I meant to say torture shouldn’t be done.

  • brianbaik

    In my post i meant to say UBL (Usama Bin Laden) instead of UCL each time. Sorry about the typo.

  • Natalie M.

    This was my fourth time seeing this movie, and I would/will definitely watch it again mainly because I absolutely adore films about war, government, and or the military. Zero Dark Thirty has had me on the edge of my seat, with my stomach in knots every single time. I will admit that I am a little biased with my pro-torture feelings, as ZDT and other movies that are about the war on terrorism hit close to home mostly because my sister did two tours of Afghanistan during some of the worst years in that country. She is still here today, but many of her battle buddies didn’t make it back with her. I have the upmost respect for the men and woman who serve our country. This film definitely has an, “America, fuck yeah!” persona about it, as you said in your general review, and I love it.

    Per the dictionary, torture is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological pain and possibly injury to a person (or animal), usually to one who is physically restrained or otherwise under the torturer’s control or custody and unable to defend against what is being done to them. Did we see torture in the film? Yes. Did I mind it? No.Watching those scenes kind of made me cringe…if it didn’t make you cringe or feel a tad uneasy, you might not have a soul. Just because I say that I didn’t mind it being in the movie, watching a human that is being degraded and treated like the lowest scum of earth is extremely saddening. Kathryn Bigelow made a point to explain and show her audience things that ACTUALLY happened. It wasn’t sugar coated. That’s how things really were there. Detainees were treated with no respect at the FOB’s.

    America was at a place and time where we were very pissed off, we captured people who were involved in the terrorist attacks and we wanted answers and we were doing whatever it took to get those answers.

    At one point in the film, Maya and her coworkers were watching TV, an address by Obama was taking place. He stated that, “America doesn’t torture.” as an effort to “regain America’s moral structure.” Bigelow made it a point to show the audience that at one point, the government actually pulled the detainee program, which meant no more torturing. Maya and Dan and many others couldn’t believe it. How were they supposed to get answers now?

    A while after that, during a meeting in Islamabad, a government official told Maya and everyone else in the board room, “Do your fucking jobs, bring me people to kill.” He was talking about how “they” attacked us on land, water, and air, killed 3000 in cold blood slaughtered former deployed and asked everyone, “What have we done?!” -this meeting always fires me up. The movie seems to keep going in circles, they have leads, but something always happens and moves them back to square one. In a way, it almost justifies torture and the steps that the US took to get to where we are today. If we didn’t do those things, as horrible as they may have been, would Bin Laden be dead? Would Al Qaida be a dominant power? You never know.

    Bigelow makes a point to share her views because she wishes torture was “not part of that history”. During the torture scenes, you see Ammar literally at his breaking point, begging, etc. You see the happiness he gets from drinking juice, eating a real meal, etc. You see Maya’s disgusted uncomfortable reactions and even how she’s ready for more and will go in without a mask. And how Dan is almost shows no mercy to his detainees. The way she portrays these actions is not heartless- it’s tasteful in my opinion.

    During the film, nobody says they think that it’s wrong and we shouldn’t do it, but then again nobody says it’s right. America isn’t perfect, but neither are many other nations in this world. Freedom isn’t free. And if I recall correctly, we are home of the free, because of the brave.

  • Stefan D

    I would completely agree that this film does not show favoritism towards torture or endorse it in any sense. The most obvious evidence would be the ways in which Maya reacted to the torture tactics being used in the early scenes. You can see by the deeply sadden facial expressions (with tears running down her face at one point) that she wasn’t mentally okay with it even if she didn’t physically try to stop it. One might argue that she should have made an attempt to intervene and put a stop to it. However she doesn’t have the authority to do so, she and Dan are merely pawns of the people higher up who bestow those commands down onto them. It is their job to do exactly what they are told and in this line of work there is little to no room for slip-ups.

    Secondly, we have Ammar who is the one being tortured. Kathryn could have easily portrayed him as being emotionless and bitterly cold, but instead she gives him life and emotion. You almost want to believe that his tears in those torture scenes are real because the film does a great job of showing you the point of view of the one being in the chair and what exactly they go through. He is given very human emotions, for example when he is given basic food and a drink after being deprived of it for a while. You see him holding on to it with dear life.If the film took the approach of showing Maya walk into a dark room with Dan and the door shuts in the cameras face, and we later find out that he gave up specific information that lead to location of Osama Bin Laden. It is then that one could argue that the film directly portrays to the viewer that torture is good and highly effective . But that is simply not the case in Zero Dark Thirty. Bigelow does a very good job at the difficult task of showing both sides of the story, rather than making the film limited to one aspect of the journey. I would say this film is more about Mayas great talent of tracking down people and resilience to the obstacles she faces in a male dominated industry, and less about the glorifying of torture tactics. The bulk of the film is centered around her journey outside of the torture room, her biggest challenges are those within herself and obstacles in her workplace. The torture scenes were merely a building block to setup the rest of the movie. I highly doubt Bigelow meant for there to be so much attention of that aspect of the film considering it was done properly with almost a neutral bias and only took up a small fraction of the film.

    Stefan Djuric

  • Alex Cohen

    I agree with many above me as well as Mr. Smith in this films depiction of torture. I personally appreciated how explicitly real and accurate this film really was. Before I took this class, I heard about this film and brushed it off as a politically angled film like many others but boy was I wrong. i am the type of person that enjoys a good twisted, gory, offensive and confusing film that pisses most people off and confuses the rest. This gives me almost the power that a brain surgeon has in the way that i can dissect the movie and take away what was either really meant to be said or what I pertain to be of importance. So generally this movie has many layers and fits my interest of fucked up graphic movies.

    But this film is a little bit different to me. the controversy that surrounds the film to me is ridiculous. In this day and age for someone to be that offended by a movie that is for the most part historically accurate while explicitly showing the facts rather than society’s view of the facts kind of pisses me off. I feel like this argument is so dated and annoying considering there are way more things out there that should be the focus of our efforts and our emotions rather than a movie that tells it like it is. To me, this movie is well behind the boundary of “not okay” especially with today’s general acceptance for social issues and the social criticisms that come with them. If people and officials are mad at how the depiction of torture of the events that conspired in the movie, their anger shouldn’t be thrown at the director of the film but by the United States government for letting shit like that go on for so long. Getting mad at a person just for conveying its reality and heaviness to the general population is just plain stubborn and ignorant.

    I agree that everyone has their own opinion on anything that happens whether it be a movie or a song lyric someone will probably bash it at some point. What I don’t agree with is projecting your viewpoint as the right viewpoint and acting as if no other opinion is correct. That is straight ignorance at its finest and that is why I hate everyone and love this movie. Nice pick Mr. Smith.

    Alex Cohen

  • Zenoviy Kovtun

    I would like to agree and disagree to a certain extent compared to your opinion of torture within the film. Yes i do believe that the author never really had the characters acknowledge the moral and ethical problems of torture to gain information or knowledge, yet I agree that it was not necessarily needed. The film seems to portray the idea of wrong doing when torture is brought up and it does not formally say what it is trying to convey. Based on the exclusion of those simple additions one can learn to understand how some people may get the impression that the film is glamorizing or deeming torture as an acceptable means to an end. Therefore I agree with the film about not portraying torture in a positive manner yet I disagree with the fact that simply mentioning the opinion on torture by the characters would have been a reasonable solution to put a stop to any doubters or questionable opinions of the film regarding this subject matter. Although I still agree with the fact that it was excluded at the time because it is understandable for the director to try to convey their messages visually through the film instead of simply telling the viewer or audience. I also believe that this little controversial method of dealing with the issue and idea of torture within the film was also deliberate and made for people to voice their opinion. It got people taking and allowed the film to gain more notoriety along with the fact it is an overall good film.

  • Top 100 Films of the Decade, pt. 4 (#25 – #1): A Contest | White City Cinema

    […] Has it ever been less intellectually fashionable to love a movie that was so critically and commercially successful? Or, to put it another way, has there ever been a case where the vociferous objections of cultural commentators generated way more noise than anything film critics had to say in shaping how the dialogue about a movie played out in the public arena? I saw this astonishing film, director Kathryn Bigelow’s best, three times in the theater, then several more times on Blu-ray, and felt shaken to the core after every viewing. It depresses the hell out of me that I know some smart cinephiles, even some who liked The Hurt Locker, who nonetheless stayed away from this dark and brooding meditation on the cost of our “invisible war” out of fear that it would be an example of spiking-the-football propaganda (to borrow a phrase from President Obama). Remember, folks: torture isn’t morally wrong depending on whether it does or does not get results for those who practice it. It’s morally wrong, period (as Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal do actually show). Jessica Chastain, who puts a human face on — and provides an emotional center for — the very public and global story of the decade-long manhunt around which these debates swirled, gives a performance that is nothing less than phenomenal. The final, ambiguous close-up of her face, tears streaming down her cheeks, haunts me to this day. Full review here. More thoughts here and here. […]

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