When I first wrote about the early praise for Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow's interpretation of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, I figured the next big round of news about the movie would its Oscar nod. Instead, the movie is stirring up all sorts of controversy, and unlike early whispers that the film would essentially be a propaganda ad for the Obama administration, current complaints are related to the waterboarding scene shown in the first moments of the movie.
Even Sen. John McCain has spoken out against ZDT's torture depiction, saying that despite what the movie may lead viewers to believe, extreme interrogation did not provide information that led to the discovery of bin Laden's compound. The filmmakers got it wrong, says McCain -- and others agree. Some are even going so far as to call for a boycott of the film, because it "glorifies" torture.
My take? You need to see this movie for yourself, instead of letting people to tell you what it's about.
If you take the advice of this writer with the Huffington Post, you'll boycott the movie because it doesn't apologize for the torture it shows, and it doesn't specifically call out the fact that the torture that occurred wasn't what led investigators to bin Laden:
Zero Dark Thirty starts with phone calls from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and moves rapidly to detainees being waterboarded and twisted into positions not seen in nature. That torture produces a clue. Which is useful when the film turns to traditional investigative methods. (…) Yes, we tortured. But that sequence of events is wrong. In the film -- and as a matter of widely-acknowledged fact -- it's only the traditional methods that pay off. (…) By front-loading the film with the gruesome reality of torture -- but not presenting a single character who sees what's happening and condemns it as illegal, immoral and ineffective -- director Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, her screenwriter and co-producer, get to have it both ways. (…) I would bet that audiences won't be sickened by waterboarding and other torture -- they'll cheer.
Okay. So he admits that in the film, it's never falsely implied that torture led to bin Laden's capture. He's saying that the film will make you cheer for torture? You know, I somehow doubt that. I bet there won't be a single viewing which involves audience members leaping from their seats to applaud that waterboarding scene.
McCain, on the other hand, seems to believe that the movie does present a fictionalized account in which torture provides the answers needed to find bin Laden:
Yet the movie, of copy of which McCain said he received Monday, indicates that's how the United States found the al-Qaida leader. The filmmakers fell for it hook, line and sinker, McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday.
Yes, the debate about whether the depiction of extreme torture in the film is necessary is a valid one, but as Bigelow said recently, "I wish it was not part of our history, but it was." As for that argument that the torture shown in the movie leads to the clue that tips off the hunt for bin Laden, that's not true. It's actually during a different scene where the prisoner is being treated kindly that the information is revealed. Zero Dark Thirty doesn't chose sides, even in the torture discussion.
See, that's why I want to see it more than ever. Not only because I don't want armchair movie critics or politicians telling me what I should and shouldn't see -- and what interpretations I should make from a drama the filmmakers themselves describe as "a movie -- not a documentary" -- but because that's what I've heard all along about Zero Dark Thirty: it doesn't politicize anything. It doesn't tell us that torture is bad or that Obama is good, it tells us a dramatic story about dedicated intelligence and military personnel whose fierce determination got the job done.
I'm inclined to believe a movie is all the more powerful when it allows its audience to draw their own conclusions. Zero Dark Thirty will surely be divisive no matter what, but the idea of boycotting the film because it doesn't decide our values for us? I can only wonder what the men and women who were actually involved in the massive bin Laden operation think about that.
What do you think about the controversy surrounding the torture scene in Zero Dark Thirty? Are you still planning to see the film?
Image via IMDB