Sunday afternoon January 20th I find myself sitting, stunned in a dark movie theatre. The credits roll as the score plays for one of the most powerful films I have seen in many years. There’s a lot to digest here and I haven’t been this shaken and awed by a film since Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” I remain motionless. “Directed by Kathryn Bigelow” flows from the darkness and reveals itself onto the screen then fades away. After a time I have to leave the theatre; this brilliant, unusual production piece, “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Bigelow has created nothing short of a masterpiece. It will be viewed and studied for years to come. It is already being dissected and analyzed. It is also already an intense controversy. This is the stuff that makes legends; makes the world think. Torture is nothing short of the most vile, hideous and least human of acts that human beings perform on each other. There is no connection to the heroic in it’s execution and Americans need to see themselves as heroes. The depiction of the torture of the detainees in a CIA Black Site is so realistic and brutal that I almost left the theatre at one point, to watch it is to somehow comply with it. I sat through the scenes that went on for at least 20 minutes (an eternity in film time) and it is to the great credit of the film maker that she was able to bring me back into her vision. It was the scene with the monkeys that brought me back.
“Zero Dark Thirty” is military slang for thirty minutes past midnight (Oh Dark Thirty) or an arbitrary time between midnight and dawn. It is very late night or very early morning depending on your point of view. The film too is very much left to the viewer’s perspective. This is good for events that are so critical to the national psyche and are actual events in the nation’s history. The bringing to justice of Osama Bin Laden was important and it was not pretty. There is no real glorification or “Hollywood” clichés involved. The film opens to a total black screen with archive recordings of the attack of the World Trade Center. Our imaginations and memories are already put to work. It cuts directly to the torture of an “Enemy Combatant” who strangely comes to remind me of Jesus. What follows is without a single moment of detachment for the viewer.