Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reflections, Masks, Noise, Erasure: Zero Dark Thirty & the Children's Crusade For American Justice

This is the way movies should be made.
Director Kathryn Bigelow's critically acclaimed dramatization of the US hunt for international terrorist mastermind of the US 9/11 attacks Osama Bin Laden (UBL for Usama Bin Laden in the film) is not only the summit of excellent film making technique and narrative, but exactly how I would have made it (if I had Bigelow's talent). Let's briefly examine the controversy then turn out attention to the dominant symbol of the film and how Bigelow incorporates that into all the sub-text dialogue: Maya (Jessica Chastain).
Jessica Chastain plays Maya, the CIA operative who spends ten years tracking down Osama Bin Laden (or Usama Bin Laden, UBL). In the film, when we first see her in the film, we don't see her, she's wearing a ski mask, the kind that has only the eye holes cut out; in the shot of her beneath the writing Zero Dark Thirty above, it's the exact opposite, only her eyes are covered (that scene above is when the SEALs are waiting to go do the mission before UBL has been killed) then at the end of the film, when she's on the plane, she cries signalling a rebirth and a cleansing of her identity now that the mission has been completed because she, too, is completed having exacted justice (not revenge, but justice). More on all this below in the discussion on the white film poster with the black writing crossed-out. This leads us to an important point in the debate fueling controversey: how much of the film is fact and how much fiction? "Fact" and "fiction" are not relevant points in this debate: there are facts, but not the kind you find in a documentary, because this isn't a documentary; dramas convey wisdom, a superior moral position on cultural and political debates, and they ONLY incorporate "facts" when it lends to the message the film wants to send. Films are art; documentaries are facts. No one can expect films to be what they are not. As I hope to demonstrate throughout this post, films should be judged upon artistic merit not historical accuracies and anyone diverging from this approach fails to engage what is being offered by focusing on what they deem is absent.
There are seeming debates about the film: first, is the film in support of torture? To ask that question is to ignore what the film says. Zero Dark Thirty opens on September 11, 2001, and we hear phone calls being made of people trapped in the Towers, calling for help and dying; there is so much noise, we can't hear and understand everything being said, and that "noise" contributes as an important artistic medium in the film. One, because it demonstrates how we the audience won't "hear" everything in the film, there is literally noise built into the story and if we don't listen carefully, we'll miss the most important part. Secondly, to substantiate this, towards the end, Maya is handed a important piece of information the CIA had all along but it got lost in "the noise" after 9/11. So, what does this have to do with torture?
Names are important in Zero Dark Thirty because it's the "proper name" and the correct meaning of the name Maya spends so long looking for. What does "Maya" mean? In an extra-textual sense (outside the boundaries of the film), "Maya" might refer to the 2012 obsession with December 21 and the "end of the world." Why? Because Bigelow might be accusing us of being more concerned with the possibility of the world ending rather than the definite new beginning the end of UBL meant for America and the world when he was killed. According to Google dictionary, however, "Maya" can also refer to 'The supernatural power wielded by Gods and demons to produce illusions,' 'The power by which the universe becomes manifest' and 'The illusion or appearance of the phenomenal world.' Seeing the methods of deduction Maya utilizes in the film to determine motives of the detainees and the chances of UBL's compound being found, Maya not only produces the illusion of confidence required to finally go after Bin Laden, but she can see through the illusions created by others. Why? How? I will discuss this below relating to what Maya symbolizes in the film.
There is no torture in carrying out justice.
Like Maya, we witness Dan (Jason Clarke, another CIA operative) "torture" Ammar (Reda Kateb), a nephew of one of Bin Laden's inner-circle, in order to get an email address from him; after we--and Maya--have thoroughly witnessed how Dan treats Ammar like an animal to get him to communicate information that will save lives of people all over the world, Dan strips off Ammar's pants (covered in his own feces) and leaves him naked with Maya; Ammar begs Maya to make Dan stop and Maya tells him, you are bringing this on yourself in not telling us the truth. Later, Maya herself uses physical beatings in coaxing information from detainees and, one detainee who was a banker tells her that he has all ready been tortured and will tell her whatever she wants to know.
So, based on this, is ZDT pro-torture?
This is Dan (Jason Clarke) and of course, the name "Dan" is short for "Daniel" which in Hebrew means "God is my judge," also translated as "Judgment of God." In this particular scene, Dan has placed detainee Ammar in the box," rather like what happens to Alec Guinness' character in Bridge On the River Kwai, so we recognize this as torture (more on this just below). What is interesting about Dan is (symbolically or poetically speaking) why he has to leave the CIA site and "hand-off" to Maya (he doesn't "have to leave" but as a character with a purpose in a narrative, he has to leave in order to convey the moral point the film makers want).  There is a little scene with Dan feeding ice cream to two monkeys in a cage at the CIA Black Site where he has been working with detainees. He encourages the monkeys to take a bit of ice cream each, then one of them takes the whole cone away. What does this mean? It's clear that Dan treats the detainees like animals (more on this below) and the monkeys symbolize the detainees because of Dan's methods; the monkeys taking the ice cream formulates for the viewer how treating and torturing the detainees has "robbed" Dan of his "sweetness" (the ice cream) without him intending it. In other words, Dan was willing to "give" some of his sweetness/humanity to treating the detainees like animals--because our actions define us so what he has done to others has made him what he is--but without Dan intending it to happen, all his sweetness was stolen just as he stole all the humanity from the detainees. Furthermore, during the opening torture scene, the song being played is "Pavlov's Dogs," linking to the experiment of classical conditioning: "When you lie to me, I hurt you," Dan tells Ammar, not just teaching Ammar that "golden rule" but also conditioning Dan that when Ammar lies, I have to hurt him or the building up of the conditioning is all undone. The monkeys are the opposite of Maya's canaries (what the SEALS are called in the film) because Dan's monkeys die (symbolic of his work with the detainees) whereas Maya's canaries (the Navy SEALS) live and complete the mission. This symbolic balance Bigelow presents is imperative in understanding the moral and political agenda of the film as a commentary on the last ten years of American history.
In our world, there is a lot of noise, primarily created by liberal political-correctness, the "double-speak" of socialism seeking to make a term such as "justice" seem right-wing and inherently unjust. The truth is, there is a truth, and there is justice, there are guilty people and there are innocent people; granted, we can't always get to the complete truth, but that humane limitation should not and cannot stop us from pursuing and initiating what truth we can access and what truth calls for, justice. Innocent people from all over the world died in 9/11 and subsequent al-Qaeda attacks. The aggressive terrorist tactics of jihadists threatened the security of the world and the world has the right to defend itself and exact the penalty for wrongs committed against the innocent (this is the foundation of Dan's warning to Maya about the "political climate" changing in 2008 because Obama's cabinet does not care about justice, only their own power). But this is only part of the "torture" aspect the film presents us.
The way the film substantiates this position is in the mask Dan puts on Ammar when pouring water down his mouth (waterboarding). In art, masks to not conceal but reveal, so if someone wears a mask something about them is being revealed in that instance and the mask alerts us to take note of the character's deeper presence in the narrative. Ammar's face is blacked out (erased, just like the words on the black and white poster for the film) by the black mask and like the fully clothed black figures in the film: he has no identity. It's not just Jihadists who have their identity blocked out, and this is discussed just below. Dan rather represents the idea of American "brass knuckle tactics" we saw in Lawless and Expendables 2 and, wanting to distance the manhunt from that accusatory position that America is just a bully, Bigelow distances Dan from the manhunt by removing him to Washington. ZDT follows the same Jaws, which was a validation of American justice in bombing Hiroshima during World War II (for more, please see Jaws & the Cleansing Of America). Like Spielberg in Jaws, Bigelow in ZDT takes great pains at establishing all the crimes and how the punishment aptly fits.
Dan and Maya make it clear that Ammar and others are being tortured solely because they are refusing to tell the truth. If Ammar had told Dan the answer to his questions, Dan would not have put a dog collar on him or subjected him to physical beatings. Not telling the truth i\perpeturates further acts of vioelnece in two ways: lying is an act of violence agains the ruth is revealed,  many lies that even when the truth is revealed, and this comes up several times in the film with lies) and secondly, lying and withholding truth allowed additional acts of terrorism to take place in the world which could have been stopped had the CIA agents known the next targets.  So the detainees are not only guilty of crimes they committed while outside US custody, but while in US custody as well.
I know exactly what you are thinking,...
Above is night vision employed by the SEALS as they enter the UBL compound, part of a concerted demonstration of perfected structural balance, manifesting the excellence in both writing and directing of ZDT. One day, Maya drives out of her compound and Islamic men get out of a (almost) neon-green Mercedes and fire at her with automatic weapons (at 1:34 in the trailer at the start of the post); to connect Maya's near-assassination with the SEALS' assassination of UBL, the door of his compound is green. UBL's compound is all white, so there is no reason for the door to be green and I have NEVER seen a Mercedes that color of green before (not to limit the realm of possibility in the world, yet I would like to draw your attention to the application of this specific color) so "green" links the failure of the Brotherhood to kill Maya and Maya's success in killing UBL, the intense green of the night vision in the still above linking the events Bigelow wants to weave into our experience of the manhunt. Why green? Like many symbols (especially the colors) green has a positive and negative value: positively speaking, green invokes re-birth and therefore green is the color of hope; green is also the color of mold and decay, something that has rotted. Maya's assassins get out fo the nasty-colored green Mercedes to assassinate her because the vehicle (the car) of their hatred (killing her) for her is itself rotten (green); perhaps this makes more sense if we jump ahead a bit and add that Maya symbolizes America itself (more on this below) and not just America, but what is best about America, and this brief moment of the film is like a "re-casting" of how /11 took place: murderers propelled by the rotted dogmas of Islam attacked the strongest aspects of the United Stats. Contrariwise, when Maya's field agents have located UBL's courier Ibrahim Sayeed, they watch him enter the compound through a double-green door (again, the rest o the compound is all white, so there is no logical reason for just the doors to be green other than to make a point). Sayeed entering the green doors symbolizes the hope that the manhunt is nearly over and victory nears. While night-vision isn't over-used in the compound entry towards the end, it's used sufficiently to, again, link itself with the other applications of color reproduced for our engagement.
You cannot expect "the brothers" (the detainees as part of the Muslim Brotherhood) to tell information that will jeopardize the Brotherhood and betray their religious affiliation. Why not? I can guarantee you if I--as a Catholic--were caught in a Muslim country just preaching the Christian Gospel or urging people to convert, not even making acts of violence, just talking--I would be tortured and maybe even killed just for talking; now, is that a fair and rational approach to the world's safety? No, but it's the double-standard that exists. The law of the United Nations is not for the whole world to submit to Muslim rule, therefore, being at odd with the rest of the world, the world has the right to break the detainees' obstinacy (used as a weapon against the welfare of the rest of the world) with whatever weapon appropriately breaks obstinacy, be that what it may, because interrogation becomes a battlefront all its own where each side continues introducing the means of battle necessary to prevail, silence and lies for the detainees and waterboarding for the detainers.
This is a clip from The Debt with Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Chastain (far left); in this film, Chastain plays a young Israeli intelligence agent assigned to capture a Nazi doctor from the Holocaust so he can be brought to justice. Why bring this up? Besides Chastain playing intelligence officers in both films, Bigelow visually sites The Debt in the closing of ZDT with shots at the end of the film summoning this very image (this is known as reader response, when the audience recognizes something the art referencing something outside itself to extend the realm of engagement and those recognizing the end shots of ZDT are the implied readers because the film makers speak directly to them). Why make this connection? Two reasons, at least. First, it compares Osama Bin Laden--lest anyone be in doubt--to the Nazi doctor (because both are the villains she brings to justice in both films) and the cruelty he waged upon innocent men and women, which means Bigelow correlates 9/11 to the Holocaust, and justly so because both the Nazis and Jihadists had nothing but the extermination of innocent people in their plot. Because of this, we come to the second reason, which is, the loss of identity. Murdering someone means you murder yourself, which is demonstrated in the film by a loss of identity (as discussed above, in the case of the black mask  being put over Ammer's face because, by withholding information, he was still contributing to the murdering of people so he was also killing himself). There are two times the film demonstrates this thesis. First, when Maya interrogates the Jihadist banker, because torture has made him value his own dignity and humanity, he now willingly offers what he knows and thereby regains his humanity and looks human, instead of Ammer looking like a beat-up dog because all people are dogs to him to be killed (until Maya and Dan trick him, then he regains his humanity as well). For example, Dan  tells Ammer that when Ammer gives him the email address he wants, he will give Ammer a "blanket and some solid food," because when Ammer gives Dan that address, Ammer will be showing compassion for other people and be worthy of compassion himself, instead of treating other people like dogs, and thereby be worthy of being treated like a dog himself. But the exact opposite is true, as well, and that is seen in the SEAL who actually kills UBL. The film doesn't pay attention to him until after UBL is dead and Patrick (Joel Edgerton) turns to him and recognizes what he did and how the world will want to know about it. So, murdering-with-a-just cause, in this case, manifests humanity and dignity because of the sacrifice that SEAL willingly made and his expertise in carrying out his duty for his country (for more, please see The Debt & the Theory Of Chaos).
When Ammer is being waterboarded, the mask "reveals" to the audience how he has "erased" his own identity in willingly participating in the "erasing" of innocent people (murdering; see poster just below for the visual example); this is an example of justice because what Ammer is doing he is properly being paid back for. Another part of waterboarding is being tied down and not being able to move; is this torture, is this excessive force? No, because Ammer has "tied down" the CIA from being able to act and prevent further terrorist attacks, so this, too, is an example of justice. What about the water being poured into his mouth to simulate drowning, is that excessive? No, this is justice because Ammer's lies are flooding the information Dan and Maya are getting and they can't accurately swim through Ammer's bad information (just as Dan puts Ammer in the box, Ammer babbles Monday, Sunday, Thursday, Friday, in trying to confuse Dan as to the day a new attack is planned for). So, as presented by Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty, there is no torture, only justice, and that done because the detainees refused to stop their participation in the murder of others.
This was the first poster released for ZDT, making the philosophy of "erasure" the primary means of our first introduction to the story. Why? Sous rature, or "erasure" is a practice more than a philosophy or idea, where we are forced to use a word of concept in spite of how inadequate it is: for example, "being" doesn't really describe what it is like to live, it fails to invoke the soul, it doesn't account for our relationships, etc., but there are times when we still have to employ the term regardless of what "being" lacks in its ability to communicate; when a writer wants to place a concept under "erasure" then, they write the word, "Osama Bin Laden" (for example) and then make a thin but definite line through the word(s) (so it looks just like the phrase Zero Dark Thirty above in the poster) so anyone reading that word(s) will know the name of the man, in this example, doesn't begin to convey the full-meaning of what his identity means to Americans. Osama Bin Laden doesn't convey the thousands of people suddenly killed on 9/11, the violence and insanity of airplanes being used to wreck into the buildings, the pain of hearing phone calls from the dying, the first-responders who died and suffered, etc. Placing UBL under erasure works well in ZDT because, in effect, so does Bigelow: we don't see UBL's face, we only see that long, greying beard with the white streak going down one side (more on the use of beards below) What does "Zero Dark Thirty" mean? It's the military's time for half-past midnight, when the SEALS entered the UBL compound; so, seeing "zero dark thirty" under erasure, we can deduce Bigelow's desire to invoke a far greater concept than the words indicating a mere time-span achieves because of the final closure being attained in this act, the crossing of the threshold of justice and faith shown in Maya's tracking, among many other ideas and emotions.  Seeing Maya in the poster at the very top of the post (the one where Zero Dark Thirty is written over her as she wears black shirt and sunglasses) that Maya's identity is under erasure like Will in The Cold Light Of Day, because she has to emerge from her nothingness (UBL is the only thing she has ever done we discover) like the SEAL shooter of UBL towards the end of the film.(for more on erasure, please see Without Baggage: Erasure & Identity In The Cold Light Of Day). But if Maya symbolizes America, then America, too, is under erasure, and we have to decide exactly what that means and what it leaves out.
But there is torture, and Bigelow takes time to make sure we know it's there: FEAR IS TORTURE; information overload is torture. There is the torture from the wounds and insecurities caused by 9/11 and the rest of the terrorist attacks throughout the world. There is the torture of not feeling safe and secure; there is the torture of not being able to find the enemy; there is the torture of not knowing who your friends are and re-directing precious resources into a manhunt not producing rewarding results. There is the torture of having to take your shoes off at the airport because a passenger has a razor or the fear of parked cars in Town Square because it poses a bomb threat. For Maya, there is the torture of knowing "she was spared" when Jessica was taken and the survivor's guilt so many carry from 9/11. This kind of torture could be said to be genuine torture because it was directed against the innocent (the US had not attacked nor provoked attack) and it's nearly impossible to heal from it. When examining a controversial moral implication, such as the torture issue Bigelow confronts the audience with, it's best to let the film maker do the talking.
Maya, as mentioned, is on her first assignment, and Dan asks if she's too young to be on this assignment, to which Joseph Bradley (the Chief) responds that Washington (Bush Administration at this point in the film) wants to have a "Children's Crusade." What is that about? The Children's Crusade was an actual religious crusade by European Catholics to take over the Holy Land from the Muslims in around 1212 (there were several crusades); so, we can say, in this phrase, Bigelow formally recognizes the history of conflict between Muslims and the West  but there is at least one additional reason fro this phrase being employed. As we have seen discussed n Expendables 2, Red Dawn, The Cold Light Of Day and will see in A Good Day To Die Hard (Bruce Willis, February), there is concern being expressed in films over whether or not younger generations (Generation X and Y) are not morally and psychologically up to the tasks of carrying the torch of freedom as Baby Boomers have done since World War II; ZDT shows the world Maya and her determination and offers that as its answer of the future of Americans continuing the "Children's Crusade" (the younger generations) for American Justice in the world.
Now we can discuss Maya.
Generally, we know Maya symbolizes America because she is female (the passive element as opposed to the active element of the male which would symbolize the economy) and she is of child-bearing age (so she symbolizes the future consequences of the now because she will "give birth" to something, more on this below). Maya symbolizes America because generally this is true of women in art, however, she also symbolizes America because of her characteristics: her determination to kill UBL embodies the nation's drive to justice. There are several instances of this in the film.

Maya studies what they believe is the hide-out of UBL. Please note, in traditional symbolism, the hair communicates to us what kind of thoughts a character is experiencing; Maya's hair being pulled back suggests that she's keeping a "rein" on her thoughts so she can analyze the situation; later, after the okay is given for the SEALS to go and attack, the rush of wind from the helocopter sends her hair every way; it can be said, "Get real, of course that is going to happen," but deliberate care was taken to show her hair flying up as the chopper lifts up to target the compound, suggesting that at that moment, Maya releases her thoughts and begins thinking of the ten year hunt finally being over and what it will mean for the world. There is also a point in the film, during her investigation, when she wears a wig: this can either be interpreted, by the events in the film, as she is "putting on her thinking cap," (because she others are trying to prove her wrong on the Sayeed link), Maya is changing her thinking pattern or she is trying to take an approach more similar to Jessica's since the wig is close to Jessica's hair color and style (of course, there are always more than one interpretation possible, these are just examples). Above, we discussed Maya's name and how it refers to illusions and the ability to pierce through them: Maya not only creates illusions--like playing off Ammer's isolation to convince him he helped them when he didn't--but she also discerns illusions, as within the realm of negativity surrounding UBL in the compound. That Maya wears a blue shirt further attests to her own suffering on this journey and the wisdom she has gained from it. Blue is the color of wisdom, and also the color of depression, because wisdom is the greatest attribute for a person to have, it is also the costliest and only comes from painful experience, so Maya wearing a blue shirt--hair pulled back/thoughts kept in check--studying the compound, relates to us the audience that she who is capable of putting up illusions herself must now pierce through one created by another.
I abhor profanity, so please forgive me, but this is an important aspect of the film for us to discuss. After the compound has been located, and Maya has deduced the probability of UBL being there, she sits in on a Washington meeting and speaks "out of turn"; when asked who she is, Maya replies, "The mother-fucker who found him." Her self-description so aptly describes what she has done, we really can't call it profanity, because she is a mother (at the same time, America is her mother because America gave birth to her), because Maya gives birth to the mission to take UBL down (please see caption below for the exact moment in the film this happens) and Islam is the "other mother" who gave birth to her enemy, UBL. The motherland of America contends against the mother church of Islam. By taking out UBL, America takes out the children of mother Islam so her own children (Maya and Americans in general) can return to peace.
Jessica, about to be blown to bits. This shot is the second explosion she experiences in the film, the first being with Maya at the Marriott. At one point, Maya hits a dead-end with the investigation and Jessica consoles her, knowing that particular lead was her favorite but now she tells Maya to "cut the umbilical cord" and take a new approach which Maya doesn't do and it pays off. In art, if a character dies, there is a reason for it, and Jessica's encouraging Maya to let Maya's umbilical cord be cut is reflected back in the scene above when Jessica's lead comes and blows her up (instead of Maya "killing" her lead as Jessica suggested). Remember, both Jessica and Maya could have died in the Marriott explosion, but they didn't, Maya not dying because she is strong enough to process and internalize the lessons she has learned and benefit from them, whereas Jessica doesn't die because that moment for her death would not have been justice, but her being killed by her own lead is so that's why she is temporarily spared. One additional way to understanon Jessica's death also stems from the conversation in the Marriott when the suscipisons of  the audience about Maya's lack of a social life are validated and, probing Maya, Jessica realizes all the personal sacrifices Maya has made for her job; simultaneously, we also see how Jessica hasn't sacrificed as much and that is why she is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice with her life because the fruit of Jessica's death will keep Maya going and determined. So, what about Dan? He's not killed, but he removes himself from the action of interrogation; is this a judgment on his character? As a male, his active principle would usually symbolize the economy, and in an "organic" sense, that is correct in ZDT, because he's the active principle that has not created profitable outcomes for the investigation (they are spending billions of dollars and have only killed 4 targets, that's bad economy tied in with Dan's character being in the process). IT'S NOT THE MEANS DAN USES, and that's why we see Maya watching Dan "torture" detainees and then we see Maya utilizing the same techniques, but what is important is the source of who that "punishment" comes from, the "mother" figure Maya and not the economic/political figure of Dan who can also be taken as a figure of "heartlessness" because of the"mask" he wears with the detainees. I know, he doesn't look like he wears a mask, but listen to the opening lines at the start of the trailer about being "bad news," because the persona Dan presents to the detainees is a mask he wears just like the ski mask Maya wears when we first see her and because that is a form of "false identity" (the persona) he can no longer participate because for the manhunt to be one of justice--not revenge--there must be an absence of malice; with a strong man (Dan) it would be possible to see/interpret his masculinity as a American Super Power trip in world politics, but with Maya being female, her feminine nature makes the manhunt one of compassion for the victims and safety for the future, like a mama bear protecting her cubs.
But doesn't Washington (Bush administration) say "She's a killer?"
UBL is the first assignment Maya has ever had, so how can she be said to be a "killer?" We know Bigelow, and given all the "instability" of the narrative (the illusions and "erased"meanings) when examining what "killer" means, we can ascertain a number of possibilities, rather like in Bigelow's first blockbuster The Hurt Locker and instability in understanding the opening declaration "War is a drug" (please see Whore Houses & Soccer Stars: The Hurt Locker for more). Sure, Maya tells the SEALS, "I want you to kill Bin Laden for me," but there are a lot of different types of killing going on: Maya has to kill the doubts surrounding her thesis of where UBL is; she has to kill what is weak within herself; she has to kill resistance her chiefs have to her demands for continuing the hunt for UBL as well as detainees' resistance to helping her and, above all, she has to kill her ignorance of where UBL is. These are just some examples (again, we see this same kind of "instability" in The Hurt Locker with the words "war" and "drugs").
Maya arguing with Brady about continuing importance of UBL.
Last item on Maya: her confidence.
Before 9/11, American confidence was a guarantee that a task would get done, that America could rebound from anything and we would always triumph (American confidence is undermined in the character of Forrest Bondurant [Tom Hardy] in another Chastain film, Lawless; please see Lawless & Brass Knuckle Tactics for more); when the meeting discusses the probability of UBL being where Maya says, none of them will go over 60% chances, except Maya: "It's 100%" that he's there, she says. "I know you don't like certainty," and why not? Because in the Obama Administration, "confidence" has become taboo, and the proof of this is the reason why Bigelow wasn't nominated for the Oscar for Best Director: although President Obama took personal glory for killing Osama Bin Laden, Bigelow doesn't even have anyone calling him.
If you saw Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes of 2009, you should recognize Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood). A further indictment Bigelow makes of the Obama Administration involves the 129 days which lapsed from the time the compound was identified as the probable hideout of UBL and action was finally taken. Maya takes a red sharpie and angrily counts the days by writing them on the office glass of George (Mark Strong). Glass, of course, reflects, so we are called upon to "reflect" on what it means for so long a time period passing with no action being taken. No, no more information was found or gathered or thrown out, it was all just sitting there the whole time and nothing was done; that is an indictment of incompetence at best and treason at worst.
President Bush is never mentioned by name, and neither is President Obama; however, Maya does watch a film of Obama giving a speech in the 2008 campaign in which Obama declared that he would end torture to reestablish America's moral authority in the world; by this point in the film, you have come to side with Maya and you know Obama's pledge is bad news. When Jessica is meeting with her potential new lead--the one that blows them all up at the AFB--one of the aides says they will give the president (Obama) a live update and another White House staff member mentions telling the president something a little later on. SO, when the SEALS set off to kill UBL and there is never any mention of the President watching or being informed or on the line, or NOTHING, that is not a screenwriting/directing oversight, that is intentional because they have demonstrated previous knowledge of the president and the manhunt for UBL in the film, but he's no where in these closing scenes.
In conclusion, this post only scratches the surface of complexity and film making excellence Zero Dark Thirty offers (because I have only seen it once). It is not a film about killing someone, it is a film about justice, it's a film about America, it's a film to make us take pride in our ability to defend ourselves and do what we sit out to do. ZDT is important for another reason: it is the exact opposite of Ben Affleck's Argo (the next post I am making). Whereas ZDT demonstrates America's success in the Middle East, Argo demonstrates cowardice and incompetence. Again, this is the way films should be made, and--unless you are President Obama or one of his supporters--you should definitely see this film.
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