Zero Dark Thirty: When Setting Out for Revenge, First Dig Two Graves

This is an older piece I wrote a few months ago but it has shares some common themes with Star Trek Into Darkness and I thought I’d share it while I work on something new. Enjoy!

A fine film from Kathryn Bigelow, director of Point Break and The Hurt Locker. I understand why it generated a lot of conversation about the use of torture. When I say conversation, I’m really talking about partisan nonsense, the denial of reality, and the political shenanigans that follow in the wake of genuine journalistic integrity. That’s what this film is, a journal. I can’t speak to the veracity of the scenes depicted but I understand them and I have a few words to say.

The opening is only audio from 9/11 and it’s a brilliant stroke to leave the screen dark. The real horror is what we fill in with our imaginations and I’m constantly and consistently effected by the annual tributes, I watch them to the extent that I can because it is my responsibility to. Call it a cliche, but I will not forget and I will not look away. But the sounds of people on their phones trying to describe the situation from the planes, the desperate ‘I love you’ as these people saw the end, and the screams of absolute horror on impact are a lot to deal with. Particularly for a story that drops away completely into the nuances of spycraft and bureaucracy and the singular passion of a few dedicated CIA operatives. I appreciate this sensibility; this is not about bold heroes who make dangerous decisions and save the day, it’s about real human beings who are methodical and detached about their work but take on it’s importance with a sense of diligence that belies the real passion that lies underneath.

How do you describe the emotions of a victim of terrorism? And by victim, I mean survivor. Where do you draw the line between the need for revenge and justice? I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive ideas and I don’t think revenge is a bad word. Not to say that it is a healthy thing, there is real cost, but when you set out for it and it is your goal, your soul is in the chamber of that gun. It becomes the blade you swing and when it is buried in flesh, stuck in bone, it stays there and you are forever married to it, an idea that this film expresses beautifully.

I am irritated that the depiction of torture created genuine controversy in our legislative branch. Actual Senators and House Representatives chastised the filmmakers for showing what we did. And what we did was awful. Maybe these people we tortured are monsters and maybe the only way to fight their brand of horror is to become monsters ourselves, but don’t shy away from the responsibility and don’t look away. Whether or not ‘enhanced interrogation’ yielded actual results is irrelevant. We ignored the basic tenets, the fundamental ideals the United States of America was founded on, in order to save peoples lives. The right to due process, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, the fact that all people are created equal and have a right to pursue happiness, we turned a blind eye and lowered ourselves to base, unsympathetic fighters in a war of symbolism. Because make no mistake, to hell with terrorism, Al Qaeda, and Jihad, but these things do not threaten our way of life or our belief in freedom, they aren’t going to change or defeat the good things about all of us, not really. At the same time, I’m not demonizing that decision. When your family is threatened, you do whatever you need to. Period. But you do not look away.

If there is a message in this film, it’s about a strong, focused female lead character, a real hero; the one who turns herself into a weapon and doesn’t look back. Particularly in a world dominated by men, she believes ferociously, without unrealistic doubt. I admire the real life people she was based on.

The truth is America let me down a little bit when Osama Bin Laden was killed. I remember exactly where I was, I was watching the news when it broke that the President was going to make a special announcement. I followed the story as a crowd built around the White House and Ground Zero. The cheering of USA and the American flags were…., well, they made me sad. I don’t want to celebrate anyone’s death, even when it comes to that vicious man. On the other hand, there was a definite sense of relief, of closure. This was a monster on the loose who would have continued to use misguided people to perpetuate murder and mayhem in the name of God, until he was stopped. Some men can’t be reasoned with. Some men are made into symbols of evil and the world needs to destroy them to restore order and to set an example. I didn’t feel the need to celebrate, I felt the need to reflect and breathe deep. But I am also not a direct victim of terrorism, so celebrate away, whatever reminds you that you are not alone.

I’ve written about the professionalism of our Armed Forces before and it comes into focus in the latter half of this film. These guys are remarkable. If you are paying attention you can understand and see the science of warfare at its epoch portrayed with awesome attention to detail. Say what you will about American foreign policy, our elite soldiers are the finest tip of the sword in recorded history. The brotherhood, the skillful efficiency, the ability to kill…no, the ability to win, is daunting. They are improvised ballet with automatic weapons.

Obviously, I recommend this film. It is well written, skillfully directed, and the acting is superb. Also Coach Taylor is in it and he curses, Andy Dwyer is always a treat and Captain Jack Harkness shows up for some freaking reason.

In essence, you are watching a fictional documentary, historical fiction. Because if you are reading this you were there somehow, someway, maybe making dinner or watching a movie while these guys, Seal Team Six, made war on Bin Laden’s compound. They avenged our family, eleven years later, and brought our idea of justice down on this one man, not to make us safer or to make the world a better place but to send a message. In my heart, I want the message to be this: To the disenfranchised, the tormented, and the abused in the world, there is a way, look to Ghandi, Martin Luther King, look to Muhammed or Jesus or Buddha. But if violence is the only option you can find, do your worst and I will do mine. I will not look away.

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