As soon as it became clear that Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was a genuine threat in the Best Picture race you could smell the fear. The powers that be could see the film was far more than just okay; Bigelow was about to blow the boys club out of the water, once again. Her movie had to be taken down a notch or two, but how? Since they could no longer dismiss little missy with a paternalistic pat on her head and a condescending, “good job!” maybe try smearing the film as an alleged breach of national security. And if the trumped up accusations of security breach wouldn’t stick, then it would have to be branded as torture porn. And if the torture porn tag felt too flimsy, then perhaps manufacture some frenzy over propaganda for our torture-loving military. And if THAT’s what it is, my god, what next? Just keep pushing those hot buttons, that’s what. When enough members of faux outrage brigade gasp anew at the fact the CIA tortured Al Qaeda suspects in the hunt for Bin Laden, let them run with that. Faster than a mouse-click the hive would be humming about how Zero Dark Thirty let it slip that torture was one way the USA did whatever was necessary to bring Bin Laden down.
That would make us look pretty bad, wouldn’t it? Considering America’s ostensible stance against torture and the experts who’ve said that torture doesn’t work anyway so why do it? Now along comes Bigelow’s film to tell the truth about how things went down, without taking a specific side, and suddenly, Bigelow’s film ADVOCATES torture. Bigelow’s film tells the story from the point of view of people on the ground, on the hunt. Her job was not to smooth things over for US politicians, nor to beat the drumbeat of barbarism to catch our killer at any cost. Zero Dark Thirty is not a propaganda film for either side. It is a story about people.
In the hysteria that has ensued, you’d think every trusting young boy had just walked in on mommy fucking the milkman. Why was it so hard to grasp that Bigelow wanted to depict events accurately whether or not it pissed off liberals or republicans? She, and screenwriter Mark Boal did the same thing with The Hurt Locker. That was a story about soldiers on the ground, our volunteer army sent into Iraq to fight a war based on lies, based on fear. Bigelow’s 2008 film didn’t take political sides — she took the side of the people saddled with the unlucky task of fighting an unwinable war in a hornet’s nest.