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Mark Boal Addresses Torture Issue in The Wrap


Steve Pond talked exclusively to Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow about the issue of whether Zero Dark Thirty advocates torture, as in, torture was used and torture worked.  But in so doing, he kind of denies that the film makes a very clear line from torture to name of courier, courier to Bin Laden:

“The movie has been, and probably will continue to be, put in political boxes,” said Boal. “Before we even wrote it, it was [branded] an Obama campaign commercial, which was preposterous. And now it’s pro-torture, which is preposterous. We haven’t really talked about that, but I want to start.”

“The point was to immerse the audience in this landscape, not to pretend to debate policy,” added Bigelow. “Was it difficult to shoot? Yes. Do I wish [torture] was not part of that history? Yes, but it was.”

Added Boal, a 39-year-old former journalist, “Everything we did has been misinterpreted, and continues to be.”

The drama about the decade-long hunt that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden is grim and tough and gripping. It’s a step-by-step procedural as tense, tightly wound and riveting in the two hours of detail work that locates bin Laden as it is in the 40-minute raid that brings him down.

But it is also a brutal piece of work in which the people who we want to succeed — the good guys, the Americans, us — do bad things: waterboarding, sleep-deprivation, rituals of humiliation designed to break detainees suspected of al Qaeda ties.

But Boal said that those who say their film makes a case for torture — many of whom had yet to see “ZDT” when they chimed in — are simply not paying attention.

“I’m not saying the film is a documentary of everything that happened, but it’s being misread,” he said. “The film shows that the guy was waterboarded, he doesn’t say anything and there’s an attack. It shows that the same detainee gives them some information, which was new to them, over a civilized lunch. And then it shows the [Jessica Chastain] character go back to the research room, and all this information is already there — from a number of detainees who are not being coerced. That is what’s in the film, if you actually look at it as a movie and not a potential launching pad for a political statement.”

Allow me to correct Mr. Boal on what exactly is in his film, which I have now seen seven times.  Apparently, I know it better than he does.

1) we see the detainee be waterboarded.
2) we see that detainee brought out for a “civilized” lunch. That detainee, during that lunch, is threatened with being hung to the ceiling again.  Moreover, both Chastain and Clarke say that he has been sleep deprived and is under duress therefore he will “believe anything.” They bluff him, he gives up the name of the courier.
3) Maya (Chastain) then looks over all of their other footage of detainees “under duress” giving out that same name.
4) Maya waterboards and questions another detainee, who holds out. But during that scene of torture he refuses to give the name of Bin Laden’s courier. He protects the courier like he protects Bin Laden, confirmation #3, gotten FROM TORTURE.
5) The White House says they question their results because they were obtained from a detainee under duress, meaning, the White House questions the validity of that information because it was gotten from a detainee – as in, torture worked but the White House doubts that it produced results.

Most of the time that they talk about the name of courier, doubting Maya’s theory, they bring up that the information was obtained by a detainee under duress — they doubt it worked. It worked.

So, to me, that tells me that perhaps Boal doesn’t realize that the sequence of events in Zero Dark Thirty amount to torture was used, torture works. That Boal still doesn’t realize it makes me think he didn’t realize that what they put on film they would be held to such strict accountability for.  I don’t think you can undo that aspect of the film.

What remains in question, and what hasn’t yet been answered, is whether Boal made up the torture of that detainee or whether he is telling the truth from first hand accounts.  It’s got to be one or the other, but you can’t tell people that what they’re seeing on screen isn’t what they’re really seeing. It’s plainly obvious to anyone with eyeballs and a brain.  Still a great movie, though.