Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty"
December 10, 2012 4:52 PM   Subscribe

Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty has been named the best film of 2012 by the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the National Board of Review. Does it endorse torture?

The film includes wrenching scenes of a terrorist suspect being waterboarded and subjected to other forms of torture by C.I.A. operatives; the suspect eventually surrenders information that helps lead to bin Laden. Bigelow maintains that everything in the film is based on first-hand accounts, but the waterboarding scene, which is likely to stir up controversy, appears to have strayed from real life. According to several official sources, including Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the identity of bin Laden’s courier, whose trail led the C.I.A. to the hideout in Pakistan, was not discovered through waterboarding. “It’s a movie, not a documentary,” [screenwriter Mark] Boal said. “We’re trying to make the point that waterboarding and other harsh tactics were part of the C.I.A. program.” Still, Bigelow said, “the film doesn’t have an agenda, and it doesn’t judge."
posted by Egg Shen (140 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think Glenn Greenwald's article on this subject says everything I would want to say.

The fact that America's self-image has gone from "we're the good guys" to "torture is great" in a very small number of years makes me sad and sick every day.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:56 PM on December 10, 2012 [52 favorites]


Andrew Sullivan:
I have not seen the movie yet, so I have to rely on descriptions of its plot. But if it portrays torture as integral to the killing of Osama bin Laden, it is a lie. If Bigelow is calling torture "harsh tactics" she is complicit in its defense. And lies do have an agenda, whatever Bigelow says. They pretend that the law allows torture, they violate the historical record, and they make war crimes more likely in the future. Yes, it makes for a more thrilling ride if we start with a torture scene in a movie drama. But actual torture, authorized illegally by war criminals, is not fiction and is far too grave a matter to be exploited as a plot device. It is illegal because it is evil and because it provides unreliable and often false leads, not real ones. Bigelow cannot argue that her movie has no agenda, or duck behind the excuse that this is a "movie" and not a "documentary". If it lies to promote the efficacy of torture, it has a very real agenda. And that is a defense of barbarism as entertainment, and as the law of the land.
posted by Egg Shen at 4:56 PM on December 10, 2012 [43 favorites]


Besides the issue of how the movie might glorify/justify torture...I'm just skeptical that this movie could be more entertaining and/or a better piece of art than "Django Unchained".
posted by winecork at 4:59 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I miss the good old days when the basic moral code -- like, don't torture prisoners, and, abide by the Geneva Conventions -- was a reason for films to make judgments. And what's wrong with pointing out the truth, i.e. that torture does not work, too?

I admire Bigelow, but not the refusal to judge what is clearly wrong.
posted by bearwife at 5:00 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm just skeptical that this movie could be more entertaining and/or a better piece of art than "Django Unchained"

Why? Rather a lot of very knowledgeable about film types appear to disagree with you vehemently.
posted by Justinian at 5:03 PM on December 10, 2012


> I miss the good old days when the basic moral code -- like, don't torture prisoners, and, abide by the Geneva Conventions -- was a reason for films to make judgments.

The good old days didn't include '80s action films, which are chock full of heroes torturing villains. A little while ago I re-watched Tango and Cash, which is pretty light and breezy as those things go, yet still includes a scene where Kurt Russel's character just straight-up tortures a suspect in the bathroom at police headquarters (while making racist jokes to boot). It's played for laughs; another cop even walks into the washroom while it's happening and rolls his eyes, like "Oh Cash, you crazy dude."

The best part is, the suspect feeds him false information which he assumes is true because he tortured it out of the guy.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:09 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have not seen the movie yet - I suspect that'll be a bit of a problem in discussing it, really. I'll be disappinted if it turns out to be a bunch of 24 style bollocks though.
posted by Artw at 5:10 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Danger Room has a different take.
posted by brundlefly at 5:11 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why? Rather a lot of very knowledgeable about film types appear to disagree with you vehemently.

You forgot that "very knowledgeable about film types" frequently disagree about plenty of things about film, silly!

Sadly, a similar controversy about the hugely acclaimed TV show Homeland has made it impossible for me to enjoy it. The subject matter, and the writers' insistence that a different reality exists w/r/t terrorism than actually does, is impossible to look past, and I simply cannot suspend my disbelieve to enjoy it, however masterfully it may be made.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:12 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


EDIT: Whoops, beaten by brundlefly. I'm going to let the quotes stand, since it's a good article. People should read the whole thing.

Another view of the way torture is depicted in the movie:


Bigelow instead presents a graphic depiction of what declassified CIA documents indicate the torture program really was. (A caveat: The CIA has actively blocked disclosure into that program, going so far as to destroy video recordings of it.) The first detainee we meet, in 2003, is a bruised and mentally unstable man forced to stay awake by having his arms strapped to thick ropes suspended from the walls of his undisclosed torture chamber. Or, in the bureaucratic language of former Justice Department official Steven Bradbury: “The primary method of sleep deprivation involves the use of shackling to keep the detainee awake.”

Later, the detainee — apparently Amar al-Baluchi, nephew of 9/11 conspirator Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, or based on him — is shown to be kept hooded in that position, in a dark room while deafening music blasts. (Specifically, “Pavlov’s Dogs” by cerebral early-’90s New York hardcore band Rorshach.) He is interrupted by his captor, CIA agent “Dan,” who informs him: “When you lie to me, I hurt you” and that “partial information” will be treated as a lie. The detainee is stripped from the waist down to be humiliated in front of a woman CIA agent — the film’s protagonist, Maya; more on her in a second — before being stuffed into a wooden box the size of a child’s dresser. That would be the “confinement box,” one of the earliest torture techniques the CIA used on an al-Qaida detainee known as Abu Zubaydah. (The agency wanted to put insects in it, to heighten Abu Zubaydah’s fear levels.)

The film goes on like this for about 45 brutal minutes. “Uncooperative” detainees are held down by large men and doused through a towel with water until they spew it up. (There’s no “boarding” in this “waterboarding.) Helpless detainees are shown with rheumy eyes, desperate for the torture to stop, while their captors promise them nourishment and keep their promises by forcing Ensure down their throats through a funnel. Amar al-Baluchi, mocked for defecating on himself, is stripped and forced to wear a dog collar while Dan rides him, to alert the detainee to his helplessness.

These are not “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as apologists for the abuse have called it. There is little interrogation presented in Zero Dark Thirty. There is a shouted question, followed by brutality. At one point, “Maya,” a stand-in for the dedicated CIA agents who actually succeeded at hunting bin Laden, points out that one abused detainee couldn’t possibly have the information the agents are demanding of him. The closest the movie comes to presenting a case for the utility of torture is by presenting the name of a key bin Laden courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as resulting from an interrogation not shown on screen. But — spoiler alert — the CIA ultimately comes to learn that it misunderstood the context of who that courier was and what he actually looked like. All that happens over five years after the torture program initiated. Meanwhile, the real intelligence work begins when a CIA agent bribes a Kuwaiti with a yellow Lamborghini for the phone number of the courier’s mother, and through extensive surveillance, like a police procedural, the manhunt rolls to its climax. If this is the case for the utility of torture, it’s a weak case — nested within a strong case for the inhumanity of it.

Nor does Bigelow let the CIA off the hook for the torture. “You agency people are sick,” a special operator tells Dan. Dan, the chief torturer of the movie, is shown as not only a sadist but a careerist. “You don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes,” he tells Maya before decamping to Washington. Other CIA bureaucrats are shown sneering at the idea of canceling the torture program — more fearful of congressional accountability than of losing bin Laden. Maya is more of a cipher: she is shown coming close to puking when observing the torture. But she also doesn’t object to it — “This is not a normal prison. You choose how you will be treated,” she tells a detainee — and Maya is the hero of the film.


....

Zero Dark Thirty does not present torture as a silver bullet that led to bin Laden; it presents torture as the ignorant alternative to that silver bullet.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:12 PM on December 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


The torture sequence immediately follows a bone-chilling, audio-only prologue of the voices of terrified Americans trapped in the towering inferno of the World Trade Center.

Especially without seeing the scene and film in question, I'm not sure what I think about it including a depiction of torture -- just as with other deeply disturbing movie scenes, a whole lot depends on the presentation.

But to juxtapose the actual recordings of 9/11 distress calls with a graphic depiction of the torture of a person suspected to be involved somehow in the attack seems deeply, deeply inflammatory and bloodthirsty.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:13 PM on December 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


The fact that America's self-image has gone from "we're the good guys" to "torture is great" in a very small number of years makes me sad and sick every day.

Um, maybe it's just me, but I like it that the country isn't tooting it's own horn every time in it's own ritualistic pep rally. America isn't a good guy, and it's a huge disfavor to always portray ourselves that way.
posted by FJT at 5:14 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


From Devin Faraci's great review:

Jessica Chastain is Maya, a CIA up-and-comer who finds herself stationed in Pakistan in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan. She doesn’t want to be there, but she throws herself into the job, which includes torturing detainees who may have ties to Al Qaeda. The film is unblinking in its depiction of American torture, spending the first fifteen minutes with an Al Qaeda financier as he is beaten, sleep deprived, waterboarded and locked into a tiny box - and who resists giving actionable intelligence in advance of a terrorist attack.

But he does, when bluffed, give up a name. It’s the name of Osama bin Laden’s courier, and it’s the closest thing the CIA has to a lead in getting at the most famous terrorist in the world...

The character of Dan seems to embody the madness of US policy post-9/11. He’s an educated guy, he’s a nice guy, he’s good at his job... and he also brutalizes detainees in order to get any scrap of information necessary.

This, I think, is where Zero Dark Thirty transcends into the all-timer category. The film presents these things, these uglinesses of this nebulous war, in a completely non-judgmental way. This is how it happened, the film says, and you get to decide for yourself if it was worth it. Some may argue that the film comes down on the side of the CIA - after all, it’s being told from their point of view, not Osama bin Laden’s - but I think that the movie’s actually much more viewpoint neutral. It’s Maya’s POV, not a nationalistic one, and by the end of the movie Maya has a very personal stake in the proceedings.

There’s that same understated ugliness in the raid on bin Laden’s compound (which, despite being recorded history whose outcome I knew well, plays with almost unbearable tension). Seal Team Six shooters casually put bullets through the hearts of downed enemies - men and women alike. The film doesn’t explain why, but it’s obvious - you can’t have this injured guy getting up and shooting you in the back. Bigelow and Boal treat the viewer like adults, never having a character say this, but they do play it like humans, and have characters - however briefly - express across their faces the impact of shooting a downed opponent. There are no histrionics, no moments of hesitation, no swelling strings. But it’s there. Subtly it’s there.

That casual ugliness is in service of something bigger. There’s an unspoken argument (so much in this film, by the way, is unspoken. It’s almost like Bigelow intended this as a movie for thinkers, not for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare thumb twitchers) that you have to bend your ethics for the bigger picture. It’s something that could fuel hours of post-film debate; I can see people walking out Zero Dark Thirty disgusted by the CIA’s actions, while others walk out energized, wanting to join the Agency...

I think the film, very quietly, says that torture doesn’t work. The movie features four terror attacks/attempts, none of which were foiled by information extracted under duress. Even the name of bin Laden’s courier comes not from rough treatment but from basic, simple lying to the detainee (lying, to be fair, that is possible due to the detainee’s weakened state). It also shows how old school, Cold War spycraft is no longer applicable, though. It quickly becomes apparent that you cannot trust a fanatic. It's a movie about the scramble between paradigms, about the day-to-day attempt to make sense of a new world and America's place in it.

posted by EmGeeJay at 5:14 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm just skeptical that this movie could be more entertaining and/or a better piece of art than "Django Unchained"
Why? Rather a lot of very knowledgeable about film types appear to disagree with you vehemently.


Can either of you link to reviews of it, whether negative or positive? It won't be in theatres for another 2 weeks.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:17 PM on December 10, 2012


Man you guys are arguing about a movie that none of ya have seen! This is unprecedented!
posted by Mister_A at 5:21 PM on December 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Here are the reviews for ZDT. I can't link you to any negative reviews. Because 26 out of 26 are positive.
posted by Justinian at 5:22 PM on December 10, 2012


But if it portrays torture as integral to the killing of Osama bin Laden, it is a lie.

How the hell can Andrew Sullivan make this claim?
posted by xmutex at 5:25 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think because the intelligence leading to ObL wasn't obtained through torture? It was old school humint with assets on the ground is my understanding.
posted by Justinian at 5:27 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Center For Investigative Reporting: The poll results showed that an increasing number of Americans supported torturing prisoners, up 14 points to 41 percent since 2007.
-
Zegart also discovered that 25 percent of Americans would be willing to use a several-hundred-kiloton atomic bomb in order to stop the next terrorist plot. Overall, she believes, the poll numbers suggest Americans have become tougher on counterterrorism policy since Obama took control of the White House.


The reviews show it isn't a black and white movie on the torture issue and I'm interested enough to check it out when it's on DVD, but it is a really bad idea to come even close to endorsing torture right now. It's a battle for America's soul, and the total lack of legal consequences for those involved has only sounded like an admission that maybe it really was necessary, maybe it's not so bad.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:27 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here are the reviews for ZDT

Oops, I meant reviews of Django Unchained. But I guess you were saying that ZDT was very well-received, not that Django Unchained was poorly received.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:30 PM on December 10, 2012


But if it portrays torture as integral to the killing of Osama bin Laden, it is a lie.

Sullivan provides absolutely no support at all for this. His column is just bloviating. The most thorough account we have at the moment of the effort to find Bin Laden suggests that the first leads about the identity of Bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, were, in fact, obtained during some form of coercive interrogation. So it may well be true that torture lead to the killing of Bin Laden. Are we going to denounce a movie we haven't seen for presenting what may be the truth, just because it's wrong-thinking and against party discipline?
posted by Dasein at 5:32 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, exactly. I have no idea whether it normalizes torture or not. I just think claiming it is obviously inferior to DU is crazy when it is receiving such universal praise from critics.
posted by Justinian at 5:33 PM on December 10, 2012


Zegart also discovered that 25 percent of Americans would be willing to use a several-hundred-kiloton atomic bomb in order to stop the next terrorist plot. Overall, she believes, the poll numbers suggest Americans have become tougher on counterterrorism policy since Obama took control of the White House.

What are we bombing? If al Qaeda's leadership buries itself in a bunker in the middle of the Gobi desert, I'd say on aesthetic grounds alone the nuclear option would have a lot to recommend it.
posted by Dasein at 5:36 PM on December 10, 2012


Thank you for sparing me six hours of angry ranting. I've seen some profanities relating to this movie on some of my fellow veterans' social media feeds, but there wasn't really any content other than cursing and ill-wishing the director and producer. I will definitely avoid this.
posted by corb at 5:36 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It should be noted for the record that Glenn Greenwald hasn't seen the fucking movie, but that didn't stop him from writing his column about the movie. So, you know.
posted by kbanas at 5:44 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Dasein: "But if it portrays torture as integral to the killing of Osama bin Laden, it is a lie.

Sullivan provides absolutely no support at all for this. His column is just bloviating. The most thorough account we have at the moment of the effort to find Bin Laden suggests that the first leads about the identity of Bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, were, in fact, obtained during some form of coercive interrogation. So it may well be true that torture lead to the killing of Bin Laden.
"

The former head of the CIA and two senators on the intelligence committee, on the other hand, claim that the name of the courier did not come from CIA intelligence. The argument can be made that they would be in a better position to know than Bowden.
posted by dd42 at 5:45 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


It should be noted

It was noted, by Greenwald. You did read the column before commenting on it, of course?

[I have not seen this film and thus am obviously not purporting to review it; I am, instead, writing about the reaction to the film: the way in which its fabrications about the benefits of torture seem to be no impediment to its being adored and celebrated.]

posted by Drinky Die at 5:46 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


It should be noted for the record that Glenn Greenwald hasn't seen the fucking movie, but that didn't stop him from writing his column about the movie. So, you know.

I have no idea why folks round here are so keen on that guy, everything I've read of his has been idiotic. I guess he has all the right opinions, and that's what counts, even if how he backs them up is usually gibberish.
posted by Artw at 5:47 PM on December 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


The former head of the CIA and two senators on the intelligence committee, on the other hand, claim that the name of the courier did not come from CIA intelligence.

That may be, but they don't say it didn't come from torture. Someone held by a foreign intelligence agency in the Middle East was more likely to be tortured. It's those first two mentions - whether from a CIA detainee or not, I may be misremembering - that Bowden says were likely obtained using some level of coercion.
posted by Dasein at 5:50 PM on December 10, 2012


It was noted, by Greenwald. You did read the column before commenting on it, of course?

[I have not seen this film and thus am obviously not purporting to review it; I am, instead, writing about the reaction to the film: the way in which its fabrications about the benefits of torture seem to be no impediment to its being adored and celebrated.]


Well, that's stupid and worthless, since he can't even confirm the predicate not having seen the film, and is just talking out of his ass. Would it have killed him to see the actual thing before opening his big dumb mouth?
posted by eugenen at 5:57 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


[derail]
The day I realized my boyfriend looked quite a bit like Glenn Greenwald was a very strange day indeed.
[/derail]
posted by pxe2000 at 5:57 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was noted, by Greenwald. You did read the column before commenting on it, of course?


Of course I did. It's how I knew he hadn't seen the movie. But this is not noted in the first comment in this thread that links to the article, and I feel it's incredibly important.
posted by kbanas at 5:58 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does Bowden say coercion/torture was used or say it's likely? I haven't read any of it, but the New York Times says he was speculating.

And in writing about the treatment of detainees, he speculates that torture worked, or at least was “part of the story” of the raid. Maybe, maybe not.


I'm don't know if the speculation is true or not, but that seems to be all it is.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:58 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


A relevant NYT story which describes the effort to identify bin Laden's courier:
The details of Mr. Ghul’s treatment are unclear, though the C.I.A. says he was not waterboarded. The C.I.A. asked the Justice Department to authorize other harsh methods for use on him, but it is unclear which were used.
...
Again, the C.I.A. has said Mr. Libbi was not waterboarded, and details of his treatment are not known. But anticipating his interrogation, the agency pressured the Justice Department days after his capture for a new set of legal memorandums justifying the most brutal methods.
That leaves an awful lot of wiggle room for Bigelow's interpretation as far as I'm concerned. The CIA specifically asked for legal cover to use torture on Libbi and others. Whether or not the technique used was waterboarding seems beside the point. They were torturers with all that implies.
posted by Justinian at 5:59 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, that's stupid and worthless, since he can't even confirm the predicate not having seen the film, and is just talking out of his ass. Would it have killed him to see the actual thing before opening his big dumb mouth?


Right? If he waits a week and actually sees the movie and then writes the same exact column, but, you know, better, because he's not talking directly out of his ass, I don't see the problem.
posted by kbanas at 5:59 PM on December 10, 2012


TBH him being him the column would probably be the same anyway.
posted by Artw at 6:05 PM on December 10, 2012


Justinian: “ Why? Rather a lot of very knowledgeable about film types appear to disagree with you vehemently.”

Well, I can't generally stand war movies, particularly war movies that are based on what's been profiteering since the freaking book was published. And Django Unchained looks... well, interesting, at least. I'm prepared to like it, and I'm prepared to hate it. Also, I'm not sure why we're supposed to bow to the authority of "knowledgeable about film types."

Especially when none of them have seen both movies. Hardly any of them have seen Zero Dark Thirty, even.

Seems like there's not a whole lot to talk about here.
posted by koeselitz at 6:06 PM on December 10, 2012


The score
posted by unliteral at 6:07 PM on December 10, 2012


Man you guys are arguing about a movie that none of ya have seen! This is unprecedented!

Maybe. But we can argue about a movie I have seen : Act of Valor.

Holy shit what a jingoistic piece of propoganda trash that movie was.


Somehow, I don't think the ZDT sinks to that level.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:11 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Y'all are really arguing that I can't talk about the plot of a film from a synopsis? I have to see it myself, or it didn't happen that way?
posted by LogicalDash at 6:25 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you can tell how good of a filmmaker Bigelow is by how people respond to her movies. I have a couple friends who spent time in Iraq and loved The Hurt Locker because hooah soldiers those are man warriors. Non military friends were more that was a great movie because it shows how harrowing and awful war makes a person.

I feel a good 90% of the time a viewers own experience weighs on a movie's interpretation more than the director's vision. I watched Act of Valor and as an action film it was enjoyable but the whole message it carried made me sick. It really was a long recruitment film and completely laughable if you think about it. There were 10mins of names of the dead scrolled at then end. F that. A movie that glorifies death should not attempt to honor the fallen.
posted by M Edward at 6:27 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


By all accounts, Bigelow's depiction of the CIA interrogations make them seem like "torture" rather than - in her screenwriter's euphemism - "harsh tactics". Yet she is at pains to assure us that she passes no judgment on this.

Fearfully, I suspect this is true. A technician at heart, she does not ask "Where is justice?" She asks, "What angle were the limbs twisted into? What volume of gruel was force fed? How loud were the screams?"

This kind of moral imbecility does not tempt me to the multiplex.
posted by Egg Shen at 6:37 PM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


But to juxtapose the actual recordings of 9/11 distress calls with a graphic depiction of the torture of a person suspected to be involved somehow in the attack seems deeply, deeply inflammatory and bloodthirsty.

And trivializing, given the context. I saw a preview for "Zero Dark Thirty" a few weeks ago, and my first thought was, "griphus is going to get his wish sooner than he thinks."
posted by ryanshepard at 6:39 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The deepest critiques of this movie come, I think, from its defenders.

Devin Faraci: This is how it happened, the film says, and you get to decide for yourself if it was worth it....Seal Team Six shooters casually put bullets through the hearts of downed enemies - men and women alike. The film doesn’t explain why, but it’s obvious - you can’t have this injured guy getting up and shooting you in the back.... Even the name of bin Laden’s courier comes not from rough treatment but from basic, simple lying to the detainee (lying, to be fair, that is possible due to the detainee’s weakened state).

(1) The film says this is how it happened, but it isn't. At best, the facts are unclear, and presenting it as a "decide for yourself" narrative of fact is hugely misleading. Bigelow calls the film both journalism and fiction, as it suits her. (2) It's not "obvious" you have to shoot every man and woman in order to capture Bin Laden; the fact that the reviewer already considers this obvious shows how far on one side of this debate he already is. (3) Note the "to be fair" -- he does seem to realize that the movie shows that torture softened up the guy, even if the final event was achieved by lying; but somehow this is a minor caveat.

Given his history, Spencer Ackerman is more disappointing. But again, it's his own words that undercut his argument.

Ackerman: Bigelow instead presents a graphic depiction of what declassified CIA documents indicate the torture program really was... The film goes on like this for about 45 brutal minutes....The closest the movie comes to presenting a case for the utility of torture is by presenting the name of a key bin Laden courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as resulting from an interrogation not shown on screen.... If this is the case for the utility of torture, it’s a weak case — nested within a strong case for the inhumanity of it....Maya is more of a cipher: she is shown coming close to puking when observing the torture. But she also doesn’t object to it — “This is not a normal prison. You choose how you will be treated,” she tells a detainee — and Maya is the hero of the film.

So again, torture works, and the hero of the film (reluctantly) supports it. More bizarrely, Ackerman seems to think that presenting torture as a horrible thing (which at least is a step up from Faraci's naive view that this is just a judgmentless presentation of "how it happened") somehow means that the film must be anti-torture. That's almost as naive. Of course the torture supporters think it's horrible. Horrible, but necessary. And apparently, sometimes you have to watch 45 minutes of it just to show you're truly facing up to that necessary horror. It takes a tough man to support tough but necessary tactics.

I haven't seen the film, but I'm judging these defenders not on the film, but on how they talk about it. Both acknowledge that it is full of torture yet in the end depicts that torture as instrumental for killing Bin Laden. Yet somehow both think that that makes it a critique of torture. No -- that's its standard defense. The fact that they both misunderstand that shows how far off the deep end we've gone in the torture debate.
posted by chortly at 6:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


The fact that America's self-image has gone from "we're the good guys" to "torture is great" in a very small number of years makes me sad and sick every day.

.
posted by straight at 7:02 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Both acknowledge that it is full of torture yet in the end depicts that torture as instrumental for killing Bin Laden. Yet somehow both think that that makes it a critique of torture

Right, but Star Wars, Clockwork Orange, The Green Berets, Full Metal Jacket, hell, even Kelly's Heroes, features a torture scene.

I'm not going to try and contexualize and defend Bigelows scene - I haven't seen it, yet. However, the fact is that torture scenes appear in many movies and often without a lot of moral judgement or critique around them

I think it's best to save the moralistic handwringing for how the scene and the film actually play out. So far, this is just so much advertising hype.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:07 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


EmGeeJay: "
From Devin Faraci's great review:'I think the film, very quietly, says that torture doesn’t work.
'"

"Very quietly". In today's "we report, you decide", low-information voter society, that's handwashing that would make Pilate blush.
posted by notsnot at 7:19 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


That depends on whether you're looking for effectiveness or ideological purity. You and I might be more pleased with a bold statement that torture is evil and those who contend with monsters be careful lest blah blah blah, but I bet a metric boatload more people would go and internalize a film which says torture doesn't work quietly.
posted by Justinian at 7:36 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


>loved The Hurt Locker because hooah soldiers those are man warriors. Non military friends were more that was a great movie because it shows how harrowing and awful war makes a person.

My non-military self happens to have just watched it the other night. I thought it made a silly attempt to pass itself off as a Serious Movie About War, while making the whole thing look cool, exciting, and fun. I'm easily harrowed and I can tell you there wasn't anything remotely harrowing about it. Full Metal Jacket, ferinstance, has some bits that are hard to watch. Hurt Locker, not so much.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:36 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Geez, that Faraci review is pretty much the most fawning thing I've ever read. And it's utterly empty. I mean, I don't come out of the review knowing much about the movie at all. The best thing he can sputter about it is that it's a "honest" depiction of "casual ugliness;" and then he loses the plot, because he says
That casual ugliness is in service of something bigger. There’s an unspoken argument (so much in this film, by the way, is unspoken. It’s almost like Bigelow intended this as a movie for thinkers, not for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare thumb twitchers) that you have to bend your ethics for the bigger picture.
That last sentence is pretty unclear. "There's an unspoken argument" – where? In society, or in the film? Well, the parenthetical notes that "so much" is unspoken in the film, so I guess we're to assume that he means "there's an unspoken argument" in the film?

In which case the "casual ugliness" is "in the service of" the point that "you have to bend your ethics for the bigger picture." Which sounds... a lot like a justification for torture. But since the first sentence of the next paragraph says the film is saying torture doesn't work, I am not really sure what to think.
It’s something that could fuel hours of post-film debate; I can see people walking out Zero Dark Thirty disgusted by the CIA’s actions, while others walk out energized, wanting to join the Agency. I found myself somewhere in the middle.
Really, all he's saying in this whole review is that the film "lets the viewer decide." And I hate to say it, but at this point that's pretty tedious to me. It's not an unpopular route to go with "historical" films these days; the air of utter unimpeachable objectivity is a much-beloved fragrance.

These are the same terms in which people were recently loving Argo, but Argo was boring for all of these reasons: it didn't say anything whatsoever, beyond underlining that its makers wanted it to feel "important." (It even pulled that now-obnoxious trick of being a film set in the 1970s shot on 1970s-feeling film stock. Seriously, folks – not original anymore. Stop washing everything out and making things grainy.) It connected all the dots carefully, even featuring an actual good nice Iranian woman so that you couldn't say it's racist or one-sided. But in the end it was so utterly predictable, so obvious that it didn't say anything at all.

I guess that's the point: to studiously avoid saying anything at all.

M Edward: “I think you can tell how good of a filmmaker Bigelow is by how people respond to her movies. I have a couple friends who spent time in Iraq and loved The Hurt Locker because hooah soldiers those are man warriors. Non military friends were more that was a great movie because it shows how harrowing and awful war makes a person.”

With respect, this is something I really disagree with. The mark of a great film is not that everybody likes it for completely different reasons. When we take that as a mark of greatness, we're confusing film with history; we know that people all feel differently about history, so if they all react the same way to a film, we say that a film must have succeeded at accurately portraying history. But that can also mean that a film just happens to say nothing at all, carefully avoiding really speaking any truth about the world that might be upsetting to someone or other. It's worth noting that this is a monetizable trend in film. Totally ambiguous history films are easy to laud because nearly everyone can agree that they're about "important" things and almost nobody can find things they really hate about them. If I thought about it, I could probably name at least a dozen films in the last decade that have taken advantage of this formula.

Really, at the end of the day, films are art. Dramatic films are not documentaries, and (it really needs to be said) documentaries can be an incredibly deceptive way to get your facts anyway. There is no situation in which watching a film encapsulation is the same as working through to get to the truth about history, about how things happened in the past. Learning about the past is bland, it is mundane, there are not cool explosions on a two-story screen and kisses at the end that wrap it all up. It takes a kind of constructive imagination that is willing to be tentative and wait for facts. Every movie ever made about history got details wrong; most of them got many details wrong. The only way to really understand what happened in the past is to read and think about it.

Watching a movie will not recreate history for you, it will not recreate the Iraq war for you, it will not recreate the killing of Osama bin Laden for you. The most it will ever do is give you the pleasant feeling that you understand what happened, that you were there. And often I think that giving that pleasant feeling to millions of Americans routinely, about everything and anything, only serves to alienate us further and further from the truth about the world and any understanding that might be possible.

TL;DR - I really wish we'd stop making (and watching) films about "history" that are supposed to show us "what really happened." Films are lies. They're fun lies. They're pretty lies. Sometimes they're lies turned around to say something important or significant. They are lies that, admittedly, mean a lot to me. But they can never be honest, straightforward portrayals of past events that don't take a perspective.
posted by koeselitz at 7:56 PM on December 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


How the hell can Andrew Sullivan make this claim?

He's been reporting on torture for years, and probably is familiar with all the non-classified reporting. Many people have reported that the information leading to bin-laden wasn't based on torture. Maybe that's incorrect, but it's definitely out there. In some cases, though we got the information from people after we stopped torturing them, which of course leads torture fans to claim that the torture "softened them up"
posted by delmoi at 7:59 PM on December 10, 2012


koeselitz
The mark of a great film is not that everybody likes it for completely different reasons.

This is where I disagree with you completely. Filmmakers are not fascists and neither is art. If every single person is meant to leave the movie theatre thinking the same thing then the only thing the filmmaker has accomplished is in making a film for 10 year olds. Sorry, but history proves that there are many stories and many points of view. Major facts should not be questioned but the truth behind the facts [and plenty of other facts] are questioned all the time.

Paul Newman talked about how he used to get together with a bunch of other WW2 vets and none of them could agree on what they had experienced. They all had a different version of events. That's reality. Some of the best movies and books capture that.

I haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty so in my view it is absurd to give an opinion until it is seen. But, interestingly, the very concept of people rendering an opinion before they see a movie tells you that getting to the truth - or the facts - can be pretty tough.

[signed, Rashomon]
posted by Rashomon at 8:27 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


In a recent roundtable discussion including, among others, Mark Boal, Michael Haneke, and Judd Apatow(?) Haneke (in German) explains why he thinks movies that merge entertainment with history are morally reprehensible. His example is the suspenseful gas shower scene in Schindler's List. Meanwhile, Boal emphasizes that he doesn't believe movies should play 'fast and loose' with history, while conceding the need for genre conventions. Lost in translation indeed.

That the movie begins with torture and ends with (spoiler alert) the death of bin Laden is a strong statement that forces you to consider your own position on the issue. My complaint about Boal/Bigelow is they seem to want to have it both ways.
posted by lowest east side at 8:28 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought it made a silly attempt to pass itself off as a Serious Movie About War, while making the whole thing look cool, exciting, and fun. I'm easily harrowed and I can tell you there wasn't anything remotely harrowing about it.

I presume that you saw it on a television or via projection? Even if you saw it on a big screen, it wasn't the same experience you would have had in a theater with good sound and projection. That was not a made-for-home-viewing film. But I think the final scene and speech to the child was the most harrowing anyway---or not so much harrowing as numbing and nihilistic. (I still think the cereal aisle scene, which came just before the ending, was what made "The Hurt Locker" become something more interesting than a standard war or action movie.)
posted by raysmj at 8:31 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rashomon: “Paul Newman talked about how he would get together with a bunch of other WW2 vets and none of them could agree on what they experienced. They all had a different version of events. That's reality. The best movies capture that.”

My first reaction to this: if the best we hope for in movies is that they capture reality, then I think we have very low expectations for what movies can do.

That's a glib reaction, I know. And it isn't really fair. In a deeper sense, movies really should capture "reality" – if by reality one means the truth about the world, as it is. But that's not exactly what you seem to mean by "reality." By "reality," you say you mean "they all had a different version of events." You explained this a little more above:

“Filmmakers are not fascists and neither is art. If every single person is meant to leave the movie theatre thinking the same thing then the only thing the filmmaker has accomplished is in making a film for 10 year olds. Sorry, but history proves that there are many stories and many points of view. Major facts should not be questioned but the truth behind the facts [and plenty of other facts] are questioned all the time.”

Here's the thing – I don't think the desire to communicate something is "fascist;" nor do I think the clear communication of a thing is only for 10 year olds. If I'm not mistaken, I think I know what you're getting at – that the only truth about the world is that there is no one truth about the world, because every person has their own valid truth. And again (assuming that this paraphrase is fair) I don't agree.

To try to say it briefly: firstly, I believe there is such a thing as absolute truth, and I think certain perspectives are more or less valid, depending on their proximity to the absolute truth. Secondly – probably more personally for me – I believe that art is fundamentally communication. A lot of us talk nowadays about how art is really in the eye of the beholder, and say that the joy of art is in finding one's own truth in it. Maybe one could chalk this up to my own fundamental loneliness, but in my estimation that doctrine utterly cuts us off from all other human beings and makes us islands, unable to ever even approach knowing another person. Ultimately, all so-called communication is art. If all of that communication is really just us looking in a glassy mirror and finding our own truth, how could we possible know another human being?

In my view, the greatest thing art can do is spark recognition in a viewer's mind and make them see something, and know that they are seeing it with the artist, and know that they've shared something in fellowship with other human beings. I recognize that that's utterly difficult, but I think it's something very fine, and it's why art is a major part of my life: because I believe it's a method of togetherness with other human beings.

Lastly, I probably should say something about the irony of your username. Rashomon is supposed to be about different stories and different perspectives, right? Among Japanese directors Yasujiro Ozu is my favorite, but I also enjoy Kurosawa immensely (Ikiru and Dersu Uzala both changed my life, I think it's fair to say). Interestingly enough, however, I've never actually gotten around to seeing Rashomon. Double irony, I guess.

Maybe I'll have to watch it one of these days.
posted by koeselitz at 8:56 PM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


However, the fact is that torture scenes appear in many movies and often without a lot of moral judgement or critique around them

First, those torture scenes receive a fuckton of moral judgment and critique. This film doesn't exist in a bubble.

Second, this film is unique in that a) it purports to be a work of "journalism" (only kinda sorta not really), b) it depicts torture in a "gritty" and "realistic" way that's being praised for its brutality, and c) it's receiving a lot of critical acclaim, which gives rise to the question of how we assess a movie that's technically, even artistically, brilliant, but which is morally questionable.

This is not a new question – film classes study Birth of a Nation, which is virulently racist but still an astonishing, even moving, film – but there's a difference between looking at a questionable film retroactively and looking at it while the questionable bits are still controversial and being released into a media landscape which is already, to put it lightly, an blatant fucking trainwreck nightmare.

The argument that "oh this torture is so brutal and the characters even question it!" isn't a valid defense. In my opinion, it reinforces the criticism made here: that this movie is presenting torture as a valid way to go after a man who's been turned into a cartoonish supervillain in the American public eye. The pairing of the brutality with the lie that oh, in the end of the day this torture is what gets results, makes me think it'll just reinforce in viewers' minds the necessity of doing ugly things to save American lives. This way, reports of how horrible and inhuman torture is can be more readily met with a, "I totally agree – I'm on your side about how wrong torture is! – but it's the only way we can keep our country safe," followed by a nice second course of "So why do you want to kill Americans?"

This is a problem I had with The Hurt Locker, Bigelow's previous film, which I was unable to finish watching. All directorial brilliance aside, The Hurt Locker is ultimately a pro-war film – it may try to portray the ugliness of war, it may even portray its soldiers' activities as sacrificial and self-harming, but it portrays this as somehow necessary, and therefore for all its brutal depictions it still ultimately concludes that war is all right.

Contrast this with In The Loop and Four Lions, which are on the surface far, far lighter than Bigelow's two films, but which contain darker sentiments at their hearts and have messages completely opposite the ones we see here. In Four Lions, terrorists are at the butt of every joke, yet the film ends with Britain completely panicked at the actions of these four bumbling idiots – a tragihilarious take on terrorist activity that concludes our responses to their behavior is harmful in its overestimation of how competent these people really are. In The Loop, meanwhile, suggests that both politicians and military men are the incompetent ones, and that even the occurrence of war itself is the result of a lot of idiots acting without knowing what the hell they're really doing. Both films make powerful political messages, without ever having to resort to the "gritty journalism" style Bigelow seems to favor (though In The Loop is brutally realist in its own way), and neither film comes remotely close to endorsing the sort of bullshit Zero Dark Thirty is accused of.

I don't think it would be difficult to make a film that, say, portrays Osama Bin Laden's death while simultaneously depicting torture sequences and also making it clear beyond a doubt that torture is an evil process that achieves nothing. But nothing that Bigelow says in interviews or actually puts into her work (the work of hers that I've seen, anyway) suggests that she gives a shit about the political implications of her material, beyond the simple "Oh man this would make for a powerful film." And that's alright for some people, and for these critics her sheer ability to make powerful pieces of entertainment is enough to excuse whatever's fucked up about her film's stance on minor world issues like torture. Maybe this, like Birth of a Nation, is an indisputable masterpiece. But that's not enough for me to start being okay with this film now, and it won't be until our nation moves on from torture and hysteria about terrorism so much that I can view this with some emotional distance.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:07 PM on December 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Warning, I'm an outlier here. I think that given the unconventional means of war that war has become, torture is justified on a certain level of necessity, given the way that war is now. I'm not for the current war, but I think that torture in this case is justified, my standard being necessity and proportionality. It's tricky to argue, but it works like this:
Until very recently, war has been fought on even playing fields, where there have been war conventions in place. Soldiers are not considered criminals by either party, immoral discretion can be classified as war crimes, we permit murderers who have killed to go scot free for being part of a convention that prevents war from being at all costs. Of course, that's not how things are now. War is now asymmetric, you have terrorists who are fighting on grounds that are beyond war convention: Targeting civilians, not wearing open insignia, torturing captured soldiers, so on. The contract portion of war convention is lost in this way, so terrorists, unlike conventional enemy soldiers, are actually criminals, and so they are targeted by name and identification, and targeted assassination is permitted to do so. The necessity is there, as terrorists hide to purposely look like citizens, and there are no means to find them until they strike. If insurgents were to treat them as normal enemies, then they would have no choice but to only have the discretion to fire after being attacked. That's not very conducive to waging effective war at all, to be honest.
The tricky part is justifying torture. It's kind of hard to justify on terms of necessity. The US can still treat terrorists as criminals by using targeted assassination. But I'd figure that it's a little unnerving when there is a war being fought and there are no targets left to fight but there are targets still out there, and they are allowed to torture troops on their own terms because they don't follow war convention. It can be argued that an eye for an eye is not the way to conduct war, and that the US and other countries working under Geneva conventions should extend its principles out to apply to all cases, but the contract is still unrequited, there are people out there getting away with things that we decided that we shouldn't do, and there are means out there that can help us stop them, if only not for what we had decided when we thought that war would only be used in necessary, proportional measures by all parties. And on an individual level, it's really easy to be anti-war, it amazes me that war even exists. At the same time, I don't see the movie or condoning torture as necessarily pro-war, though, I just think that some means become necessary when the tables have changed, and the asymmetric warfare fills that burden.

Of course, the hole in my argument lies in whether or not torture can actually achieve any results. But that's no longer a principled argument.
posted by weewooweewoo at 9:47 PM on December 10, 2012


Rory M: How you would know that "The Hurt Locker" is ultimately about anything, since you didn't finish watching it? What a choice of words.
posted by raysmj at 9:50 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I spoiled it for myself later. Turns out I didn't miss any big turn of direction. But the movie's intent was made pretty damn explicit right from the start.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:18 PM on December 10, 2012


We didn't watch the same movie, and you're more or less telling me that you didn't give it a fair shake, just walked on on it, then had impressions made that you weren't going to get past later. You had a closed mind or certain expectations and never gave the movie a fair shot, or so walking out on the film says to me. We'll have to disagree.
posted by raysmj at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


My Hurt Locker example was to emphasize personal bias rather than that it was a good movie. The people who wanted to see the men as heroes did and the people who wanted to see a commentary on what war does to men saw that.

I agree with the idea that movies about history are slippery slopes. The shower scene in Schindler's List would be superb storytelling if it were not based on real events "what a twist" but the second you think about it you feel ill. Spielberg is the king of heartstring tugging and I enjoy it immensely in his fictional films but Schindler's and Saving Private Ryan left me uncomfortable. OTOH there are other moments in the film that could be considered historical record. The atrocities were real and for a large part of population reading (or being lectured) about them never hits home. There is something visceral about seeing a big budget recreation of something like that.

It was inevitable that Zero Dark Thirty would be made, we can’t deny that, and in all honesty I am glad Bigelow helmed it rather than say, Cameron or god-forbid Bay.
posted by M Edward at 10:33 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


War is now asymmetric, you have terrorists who are fighting on grounds that are beyond war convention: Targeting civilians, not wearing open insignia, torturing captured soldiers, so on. The contract portion of war convention is lost in this way, so terrorists, unlike conventional enemy soldiers, are actually criminals, and so they are targeted by name and identification, and targeted assassination is permitted to do so. The necessity is there, as terrorists hide to purposely look like citizens, and there are no means to find them until they strike. If insurgents were to treat them as normal enemies, then they would have no choice but to only have the discretion to fire after being attacked. That's not very conducive to waging effective war at all, to be honest.

posted by ennui.bz at 10:35 PM on December 10, 2012


And if you want torture scenes in movies look up Mel Gibson. He tortures himself in Lethal Weapon 2 and Braveheart (hoo boy that director's cut) and then manages to torture Christ AND the audience in Passion of the Christ. Pure torturous genius.
posted by M Edward at 10:36 PM on December 10, 2012


Y'all are really arguing that I can't talk about the plot of a film from a synopsis?

Not if you want to talk about what the film allegedly says or supports or glorifies, or its point of view, no, you can't. Jesus.
posted by eugenen at 10:40 PM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


My Hurt Locker example was to emphasize personal bias rather than that it was a good movie. The people who wanted to see the men as heroes did and the people who wanted to see a commentary on what war does to men saw that.

You know, some might argue that a Rashomon like effect is a plus in a work of art centering on a controversial period of history.
posted by Artw at 11:08 PM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


weewooweewoo: The Conventions bind their signatories in many conflicts, not just in onflicts between two signatories. The post-Westphalian environment does mean that usual notions of "what is a war" and "what is a state actor" and "who are non-state actors" is pretty mixed up/.

The view of "war on even playing fields" is an extremely recent development in human history.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:13 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just think that some means become necessary when the tables have changed, and the asymmetric warfare fills that burden...Of course, the hole in my argument lies in whether or not torture can actually achieve any results. But that's no longer a principled argument.

It can damn well hold hands with the principled argument, and it's not the only hole in your case.

The principled argument isn't just about rationale of having conventions in order to avoid playing prisoner's dilemma with total warfare as the equilibrium. It says that no matter what else may be gained by torture, there's always something to be lost: virtue, humanity, moral authority.

Accepting this doesn't preclude or eclipse the argument that torture's nature is fundamentally a tool of abuse, coercion, and vengeance. Occasionally it may also be useful in tangentially producing information as a side effect. But generally, it probably subverts effectiveness even there: one, as people who might have otherwise pursued more effective tactics instead find the corkscrew dynamics of torture occupying them instead, and two, as organizational authority is ceded from the subtle and yielded to sadists.

I can imagine, perhaps, a ticking bomb scenario, the occasional unusual situation where a compelling case for torture being the lesser of two evils. But even there I can't believe it should be legal or accepted. Let the hero in this situation make the call, torture for whatever good it does, and pay a legal penalty for doing so. If that penalty isn't worth it, then maybe the torture isn't either.
posted by weston at 2:49 AM on December 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


The torture sequence immediately follows a bone-chilling, audio-only prologue of the voices of terrified Americans trapped in the towering inferno of the World Trade Center.

I can assure you, if the film ever plays at my small-city-in-Indiana octo-plex, the moment the torture begins after the audio, the theater will erupt in loud applause and patriotic shouts.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:00 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Presumably this is a post hoc rationalisation and justification of the USA's recent clusterfuck of a foreign adventure in the same way that Rambo sought to rationalise and justify the Vietnam clusterfuck of the 1970s. This is what you get when the culture divides the world into Good Guys and Bad Guys, with the persistent assumption that the USA is always on the side of the Good Guys: the ringing sound of cognitive dissonance.

I was amused during the recent election that the one positive claim President Obama could make (that no one could argue with) was that he had had someone whacked. Not so much Jimmy Stewart as Tony Soprano.
posted by Grangousier at 3:13 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was noted, by Greenwald. You did read the column before commenting on it, of course?

Greenwald didn't bother watching Zero Dark Thirty before commenting on it.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 3:54 AM on December 11, 2012


I'm still excited for this film. There's nothing wrong with a little artistic license. There is greater truth that needs to be told and sometimes the facts just get in the way of a compelling story.
posted by Renoroc at 4:29 AM on December 11, 2012


The Greenwald piece (which, yes, I read, thanks) seemed to be mainly to do with the factual accuracy of this allegedly "journalistic" film; and what the lack of it says about the filmmaker, personally, and her agenda.

I guess I can see why you'd prefer to hear from someone who's watched the film, if you want to decide whether the film endorses torture; but if you want to decide whether Kathryn Bigelow endorses torture, the film is not necessarily the most authoritative source.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:40 AM on December 11, 2012


Torture is likely why bin Laden was not captured during Bush's regime. If your opponent knows you are going to torture for information you go to much greater extremes to compartmentalize information and make sure that any information that can be derived from torture will be late and useless.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:40 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow, there are actually Mefites who don't think Hollywood movies are propaganda for the American way/Empire/War on terror? Seriously? This has been going on since the 40s and 50s - "The Cultural Cold War" talks about this.

If it is anti-torture - why did they juxtapose the 9/11 stuff with the torture then? Fucking hell, Eisentstein invented this technique, it has long been understood - especially by those with the power to use it (ad men, pr, gov etc)
posted by marienbad at 5:58 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why? Rather a lot of very knowledgeable about film types appear to disagree with you vehemently.

Right. I mean, disagreeing with critics is, like, anti-American or something.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:58 AM on December 11, 2012


Why juxtapose scenes of torture with 9/11? Because mycountry's (over)reaction to 9/11 is why torture has become acceptable to far too many people; the juxtaposition seems pretty obvious and just because it makes us uncomfortable to think that the two are directly related doesn't mean a filmmaker shouldn't do it.

As someone else who is anti-torture and has actually seen the movie has said:


In any case, I can't believe anyone with half a brain could watch ZD30 and think the movie is hailing torture, American-style, as the niftiest thing since Pez dispensers. The torture scenes are squalid, vivid, and brutally protracted, and—not by accident, since they lead off the movie—they make the protagonists morally compromised from the get-go. Not to mention, by extension, us, since we paid their real-life equivalents' salaries. (The horrible sense of complicity when we realize we want the guy they're interrogating to spill the beans and get it over with is one of the more memorable experiences in recent movies.) There can't be much question that the filmmakers mean this to be distressing and tarnishing, not something to cheer for.


From Zero Dark Thirty's Morality Brigade
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:03 AM on December 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


There is greater truth that needs to be told

I don't know what greater truth you have in mind. (Nor how it could be told by a movie that - if we take the director at her word - holds no opinion on the events it depicts.)

I suspect Bigelow's movie is her paean to the professionalism of our spies and assassins. She is enraptured by a focus and determination that does not scruple even before waterboarding prisoners or shooting unarmed women.

In fiction, crimes committed with ruthless efficiency have their attraction - i.e. Michael Mann's Heat. In real life, not so much.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:03 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


There can't be much question that the filmmakers mean this to be distressing and tarnishing

The filmmaker herself says, "The film doesn’t have an agenda, and it doesn’t judge."

This leaves three possibilities:

1) The filmmaker is lying.

2) The writer understands the filmmaker's intention better than the filmmaker does.

3) The writer is wrong.

When Mr. Carson chooses one of the three, I hope he'll let us know.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:16 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why juxtapose scenes of torture with 9/11? Because mycountry's (over)reaction to 9/11 is why torture has become acceptable to far too many people

And just what is going to happen when you take an audience largely composed of those overreacting people, replay some of the same traumatic sounds that made them rabid in the first place, and then immediately cut to a scene of a "terrorist" being tortured? Rather than being a cynical America Fuck Yeah ploy, maybe this is intended to make the audience recoil in horror and draw an empathetic parallel between different people undergoing terrible suffering or something, but the response Thorzdad envisions seems more likely in my part of the US:

I can assure you, if the film ever plays at my small-city-in-Indiana octo-plex, the moment the torture begins after the audio, the theater will erupt in loud applause and patriotic shouts.

Whether it's "pro-torture" or not, it seems like the kind of thing that could easily get people hurt in the theater parking lot.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:25 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


In conclusion, torture is a land of contrast. Thank you.
posted by rmless at 7:42 AM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why juxtapose scenes of torture with 9/11?

She's not just juxtaposing torture with "9/11". She's juxtaposing it with actual emergency calls made that day.

The bad taste of using real deaths to increase the dramatic effectiveness of her Hollywood entertainment needs no belaboring. But it does highlight the mendacity of running to the "it's not a documentary" defense when called out for the movie's historical distortions.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:49 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want an anti-war film that's more blatent, run "All Quiet on the Western Front."

But I guarantee there will be people, whether out in the sticks or downtown, hearing "We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing from ourselves, from our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces." and saying to themselves "Man, that's badass. I want to feel that way."

The way the torture plays thematically, I don't know. But the framing seems to be more along the lines of "what if it did work, would it still be worth it?" more than "Damn right! Waterboarding works!"
Since, y'know, we didn't waterboard the guy who gave up OBL's courier. Instead (as is most often successful) the bit of info was shopped around for reactions. And there were reactions aplenty. So the courier became a high confidence bit of information.

I suspect the filmmaker raised the issue because it was a social issue. But operationally, it was straight investigative work. Perhaps that could have been shown and contrasted with all the wheel spinning torture turned up.
But perhaps the intent too is (as she says) to show that it was part of the program, as there are still some people who might be unaware it was (being pushed to be) SOP. I dunno, I'm not a filmmaker. I don't know how to address that issue dramatically without being polarizing in any case.

Personally, I like the way Oliver Stone's 'W' handled it.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:56 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


art allows everything and anything...
posted by xjudson at 8:00 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


lupus_yonderboy: "I think Glenn Greenwald's article on this subject says everything I would want to say."

Roy Edroso weighs in on Greenwald's "non-review" review:
THUMBS DOWN. I hate to get on Glenn Greenwald's bad side but his claim that he isn't really reviewing-without-having-seen Zero Dark Thirty, when his hostile non-review contains phrases like this --
That this film would depict CIA interrogation programs as crucial in capturing America's most hated public enemy, and uncritically herald CIA officials as dramatic heroes, is anything but surprising.
--and--
...the film's glorifying claims about torture are demonstrably, factually false.
--and--
What this film does, then, is uncritically presents as fact the highly self-serving, and factually false, claims by the CIA...
-- is extremely disingenuous. Greenwald's points about some of the journalism surrounding the film are valid, but his characterizations of the film itself are ridiculous. Zero Dark Thirty isn't a shadowy political figure whose hidden movements you track by eyewitness reports. It's a fucking movie. Have your editor buy you a ticket.
I've noticed this tendency in Greenwald's writing over the years. He doesn't need to see the film to make a persuasive case that reviewers are being nonchalant about a film that allegedly glorifies torture, but if he's going to make more definitive statements about what is and isn't in the film, he needs to see it. I doubt that seeing it would do anything to change his mind, but it really is uncool to read a few reviews and decide you have enough information to dismiss the film as propaganda.

Then, in typical Greenwald fashion, having been called out on this, he updates his post to suggest that his critics simply aren't reading his piece, the part where he said he's just talking about the reviews, not what's in the film. But he's also talking about what's in the film! You can't devote 80% of a piece to criticizing the reviewers and 20% of it to criticizing the film itself, and then bitch at people when they tell you that you need to see the film before passing critical judgement on it.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:57 AM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


What this film does, then, is uncritically presents as fact the highly self-serving, and factually false, claims by the CIA

Given the government's extraordinary level of cooperation with the filmmakers, it would have been ungrateful for the filmmakers to do anything else.

That the CIA's account of its actions would be self-serving is, I hope, not a controversial assertion. That the account is false is a matter that can not be settled - given their unfortunate destruction of the evidence.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:25 AM on December 11, 2012


Yeah, I don't really expect any partnership between filmmakers and the military (and the CIA is just another branch of the military at this point) to end well when it comes to documenting history. but it's not too difficult to write a piece that says "there are problems with this kind of partnership, and they seem to be manifest in the early reviews of the film" instead of "early reviews of the film demonstrate that this film is propaganda, and the reviewers are bunch of rubes", which is only a slightly exaggerated version of what Greenwald has done with his piece. One can be skeptical without being prejudicial.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:36 AM on December 11, 2012


Well, it's true that reviews of a film by people who haven't seen it are bound to be incomplete. What's really striking here is how incomplete and substanceless the reviews by people who have seen the film are.
posted by koeselitz at 9:57 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Vulture: Zero Dark Thirty Is Borderline Fascistic ... and a Masterpiece and The Real-Life Zero Dark Thirty Heroine Is Having a Tough Time at Work which leads me to Washington Post: In ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ she’s the hero; in real life, CIA agent’s career is more complicated:
The film’s publicity materials say that Maya “is based on a real person,” but the filmmakers declined to elaborate. U.S. officials acknowledged that Boal met with Maya’s real-life counterpart and other CIA officers, typically in the presence of someone from the agency’s public affairs office. The character is played by Jessica Chastain.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2012


You don't have to have seen the film to feel bad about the way something is portrayed. I'm in the camp that has a problem with the film starting out with audio of horrified World Trade Center victims then immediately following it up with (albeit gruesome and realistic) depictions of torture and ultimately tying everything up with the nice little "We got 'im!" bow of bin Laden's death.

I would definitely have to see the film to decide how exactly they portray what actually led to this revenge fetish's climax, but you gotta admit this is a pretty manipulative formula for the movie. Imagine the layman's perspective of going to see "The Movie About How They Killed bin Laden" and it starts out with 45 minutes of torture. None of this is truly a review of the movie, but there's obviously enough information about the plot the warrants discussion.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 10:15 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


^You don't have to have seen the film to feel bad about the way something is portrayed.

Case in point, "The Innocence of Muslims."
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's unfair to the actor, or the real people involved in the events depicted, but the fact that the trailer shows that Andy from "Parks and Recreation" as one of the soldiers adds a dimension of subtle irony that I can't decide is amusing or horrifying.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:56 AM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't have to have seen the film to feel bad about the way something is portrayed

Which is why the same thing was ok to with the The Passion of the Christ or the Last Temptation of Christ? (both of which I enjoyed with the Popcorn and Large Soda of the Christ)

But then, some people who reviewed those films contrasted them with Nazi propaganda and brought up Leni Riefenstahl which, clearly, is just rabid sectarians trying to start a tempest in a teapot. *cough*

Life of Brian too, had plenty of people who thought the film was supporting a blasphemous position and yet, it was those people (all the idiots getting Christ's teachings wrong) that it was lampooning.

Inglourious Basterds got some of the same flak from the same folks obsessed without a sense of irony. It's no flaw in an artist to know one's audience (or so I understand).

Greenwald gets some stuff right. Maybe he's right about some things here. Haven't seen it myself. But there's a train wreck of logic in asserting that it's a cop out to say "it's just a movie" about a work of fiction while saying "I'm not reviewing the movie" while talking about the movie.

Although I would LOVE to see what he has to say about "The Blair Witch Project" not really being found footage.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:59 AM on December 11, 2012


Emily Bazelon (who has seen the movie):

"the movie is putting a thumb on the scale for torture"

"the movie reads as pro-torture"

"the movie had successfully led me to adopt, if only temporarily, Maya’s point of view: This treatment is a legitimate way of securing information vital to U.S. interests"

"It suggests that the tenacious agent who led the hunt wouldn’t have been moved to do so without this piece of information given up by a detainee who’d been tortured"

"Why did Bigelow and Boal make the fraught decision to suggest that waterboarding was crucial to the capture of Bin Laden? Asked about the role torture plays in the movie, they have been somewhat disingenuous."
posted by Egg Shen at 11:40 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Johann Georg Faust: "You don't have to have seen the film to feel bad about the way something is portrayed."

But you don't know how something is portrayed unless you've seen the film.

I get that the juxtaposition of events in a movie can appear to be an endorsement of the connectedness of those events, but there are reviewers out there who are getting a completely different message from this film, and not just Spencer Ackerman's dissent noted up-thread.

Even if the early reviews were unanimous in saying that the film advances the 9/11 => torture => bin Laden capture theory, Greenwald should limit his piece to a discussion of why that theory is wrong, and suggesting that critics who give it good reviews ought to consider that it may be advancing a misleading version of events. Instead, he ridicules the critics for liking the film (even if they're not aware of the difference between events portrayed in the movie and what little we know about the real sequence of events), and states as fact many things about the film that he only knows from the interpretations of other reviewers.

Then, to top it off, he has the audacity to say that people are just reading his piece wrong, he's not actually attacking the film, just the critics who like the film. No amount of directly quoting the many places in his piece where does attack the film will change his mind on this -- not the title ("Zero Dark Thirty: new torture-glorifying film wins raves"), not the sub-head ("Can a movie that relies on fabrications to generate support for war crimes still be considered great?") and not the many instances quoted above in the body of the piece where he passes judgement on a movie he has only read about from reviews.

Nobody doing this with a book or an album would be taken seriously, so how is it okay with this movie?
posted by tonycpsu at 11:55 AM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


koeselitz
[F]irstly, I believe there is such a thing as absolute truth, and I think certain perspectives are more or less valid, depending on their proximity to the absolute truth. Secondly – probably more personally for me – I believe that art is fundamentally communication.

On point number one I do agree somewhat. However, since people are by nature subjective it is pretty tough to find absolute truth about any event. Yes, some views are more valid than others but then again there are exceptions to that rule. Sometimes people who experience great trauma will have fewer memories than someone who witnessed the same event from across the street.

Yes art is communication. The reason I used the loaded word 'fascist' is because most artists I know - at the end of the day - are not going to hold it against someone who has a different perspective than they do about the work.

The bigger question, perhaps, is what is the responsibility of the filmmaker [in this case] to actual events. I say that it depends on many factors. I would not expect any narrative fictional film to be a document of real events - even if they say in the credits that they are. But the truth and the message about certain events can have some repercussions. However, I would hope that the message of any movie would be more pertinant to the time period it is in rather than to the actual events it depicts.

So, for instance, we can look at a movie like Apocalypse Now and think that the movie says more about Coppola and filmmaking in 1979 than it does about Vietnam. Or maybe we can watch Casino Royale and think that it says more about torture than about Bond.

One point of interest is that prior to the election some on the right thought that Zero Dark Thirty would be a campaign ad for Obama. Now that the election has passed some on the left think the film has a right wing perspective and an endorsement of torture. It's all about perspective.
posted by Rashomon at 12:21 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad (who has seen the movie):

"distorts the story in ways that could give its likely audience of millions of Americans the misleading picture that coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA on al Qaeda detainees -- such as waterboarding, physical abuse and sleep deprivation -- were essential to finding bin Laden"

"one of its central themes -- that torture was instrumental to tracking down bin Laden -- is not supported by the facts"
posted by Egg Shen at 1:49 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


That would be the “confinement box,” one of the earliest torture techniques the CIA used on an al-Qaida detainee known as Abu Zubaydah. (The agency wanted to put insects in it, to heighten Abu Zubaydah’s fear levels.)

From Bergen's piece:
And the story of Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner to be placed in a secret overseas CIA prison, is an instructive counterargument to the idea that coercive interrogations are the best way to get useful information out of terrorists and is a tale that does not appear in "Zero Dark Thirty."

Abu Zubaydah was first interrogated by Ali Soufan, one of the few Arabic-speaking FBI agents. Soufan softened up Abu Zubaydah by calling him "Hani," the childhood nickname his mother had used for him, a fact that the FBI agent had gathered from intelligence files. The approach started yielding quick results.

When Abu Zubaydah was shown a series of photos of al Qaeda members by Soufan, he identified one of them as the operational commander of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Abu Zubaydah's confirmation of Mohammed's role in 9/11 was the single most important piece of information uncovered about al Qaeda after the attacks on the Trade Center and Pentagon, and it was discovered during the course of a standard interrogation, without recourse to any form of coercion. Soufan recalled that Abu Zubaydah gave up the information about a week or so into his interrogation.

Abu Zubaydah was later waterboarded 83 times by the CIA. This form of simulated drowning is generally considered torture, but none of it produced much in the way of useful information. In the end, the multiple waterboardings of Abu Zubaydah provided no specific leads on any plots, although clearly his role as an al Qaeda logistician did give him insights into the organization and its personnel.
Frontline did an episode about Soufan last year:

The Interregator: An extended conversation with Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who was at the center of the 9/11 investigations
posted by homunculus at 4:43 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


[P]rior to the election some on the right thought that Zero Dark Thirty would be a campaign ad for Obama. Now that the election has passed some on the left think the film has a right wing perspective and an endorsement of torture.

Why can't both things be true?
posted by Grangousier at 1:32 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fox News host: ‘Waterboarding? More like awesomeboarding!’
posted by Drinky Die at 6:57 PM on December 12, 2012


Christopher Hitchens: "I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: 'If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.' Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."
posted by homunculus at 9:15 PM on December 12, 2012


That gives me an idea for the DVD extras. If Hitchens could do it, I assume Bigelow and Boal will be up for it.
posted by homunculus at 10:36 PM on December 12, 2012


WIRED: Alternative to Bin Laden Raid: A Teeny, Tiny Missile Strike

posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:00 AM on December 13, 2012


Yeah, that would go down well and in no way would backfire.
posted by Artw at 6:08 AM on December 13, 2012


If Hitchens could do it, I assume Bigelow and Boal will be up for it.

To give her due credit, Bigelow has used the "t"-word to describe the CIA interrogations. And perhaps it would be unfair to demand that she address the political ramifications of this.

But she ought not be allowed to continue promoting her product without being challenged by every media outlet, until she gives an unambiguous answer, as to whether, after all her diligent homework and special agency access, she believes the torture contributed to the finding of bin Laden. This is a question on which she can not believably claim not to hold an opinion. And it is an opinion that, under these circumstances, she can not reasonably withhold in the name of "artistic ambiguity".
posted by Egg Shen at 6:57 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other torture news: CIA 'tortured and sodomised' terror suspect, human rights court rules. Landmark European court of human rights judgment says CIA tortured wrongly detained German citizen
posted by homunculus at 4:01 PM on December 13, 2012


‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and the new reality of reported filmmaking
- "“ ‘Reported film’ is like ‘found art’ to me,” she said definitively. “The event happens, then it’s reported on, and then there’s an imagistic version of that reportage.”"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:37 AM on December 14, 2012


Greenwald has now seen the film
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does it turn out he's decided he was completly right all along? Because that would be a shocker.
posted by Artw at 8:16 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Does it turn out he's decided he was completly right all along? Because that would be a shocker.

You could if you wanted read the article and find out. But from reading your comments above, it's not even clear you read the original article - why should we expect you to read the sequel?

I'm noticing that people on Metafilter don't tend to actually critique Greenwald's reasoning - instead, like you, they criticize him personally. And because Greenwald seems to have no particular skeletons in his closet, they are reduced to criticizing his tone of voice.

When it comes down to it, a lot of you are apologists for torture. I cannot respect that in the slightest.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:29 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just to help you along, here are some key quotes:
The key evidence - the identity of bin Laden's courier - is revealed only after a detainee is brutally and repeatedly abused. Sitting at a table with his CIA torturer, who gives him food as part of a ruse, that detainee reveals this critical information only after the CIA torturer says to him: "I can always go eat with some other guy - and hang you back up to the ceiling." That's when the detainee coughs up the war name of bin Laden's courier - after he's threatened with more torture - and the entire rest of the film is then devoted to tracking that information about the courier, which is what leads them to bin Laden.

But the film touts the value of torture in all sorts of other ways. Other detainees whose arms are shackled to the ceiling are shown confirming the courier's identity. Another detainee, after being threatened with rendition to Israel, pleads: "I have no wish to be tortured again - ask me a question, and I will answer it."

And worst of all, the film's pure, saintly heroine - a dogged CIA agent who sacrifices her entire life and career to find bin Laden - herself presides over multiple torture sessions, including a waterboarding scene and an interrogation session where she repeatedly encourages some US agent to slap the face of the detainee when he refuses to answer. "You do realize, this is not a normal prison: you determine how you are treated", our noble heroine tells an abused detainee.

There is zero opposition expressed to torture. None of the internal objections from the FBI or even CIA is mentioned. The only hint of a debate comes when Obama is shown briefly on television decreeing that torture must not be used, which is later followed by one of the CIA officials - now hot on bin Laden's trail - lamenting in the Situation Room when told to find proof that bin Laden has been found: "You know we lost the ability to prove that when we lost the detainee program - who the hell am I supposed to ask: some guy in GITMO who is all lawyered up?" Nobody ever contests or challenges that view.
Or try this one:
Indeed, from start to finish, this is the CIA's film: its perspective, its morality, its side of the story, The Agency as the supreme heroes. (That there is ample evidence to suspect that the film's CIA heroine is, at least in composite part, based on the same female CIA agent responsible for the kidnapping, drugging and torture of Khalid El-Masri in 2003, an innocent man just awarded compensation this week by the European Court of Human Rights, just symbolizes the odious aspects of uncritically venerating the CIA in this manner).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:42 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


When it comes down to it, a lot of you are apologists for torture. I cannot respect that in the slightest.

Wow. I didn't know you could get that much poison into the well.
posted by fatbird at 10:11 AM on December 14, 2012


> Wow. I didn't know you could get that much poison into the well.

I am not going to bother anyone who's offended by torture with my comments - and I believe and hope that is a majority of Metafilter readers. As for the vocal minority who will be offended, I really don't give a damn.

What do you think about this movie and how it portrays torture? What are your thoughts and feelings on torture itself? I posted nearly a page of reasoning, facts and links relevant to the article - no comment on those?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2012


Having not seen the movie, my interpretation from everyone's reporting, including Greenwald's, is that it draws a clear line between "we tortured brown people and killed bin Laden as a result". I think that no narrative technicality can serve to undercut that bright, loud connection. I think Ackerman is full of shit that it actually, somehow, kind of makes you feel oogy about torture, because the movie basically goes horror ->Jack Bauer -> vengeance. And, of course, that's both factually and morally wrong.

Doesn't mean that branding a contrary segment of the thread as "torture apologists" isn't thread shitting.
posted by fatbird at 10:31 AM on December 14, 2012


One can be anti-torture AND anti-pompous pandering blowhard, you know.
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on December 14, 2012


> One can be anti-torture AND anti-pompous pandering blowhard, you know.

"What do you think about this movie and how it portrays torture? What are your thoughts and feelings on torture itself? I posted nearly a page of reasoning, facts and links relevant to the article - no comment on those?"
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:27 AM on December 14, 2012


lupus_yonderboy: “I'm noticing that people on Metafilter don't tend to actually critique Greenwald's reasoning - instead, like you, they criticize him personally. And because Greenwald seems to have no particular skeletons in his closet, they are reduced to criticizing his tone of voice. When it comes down to it, a lot of you are apologists for torture. I cannot respect that in the slightest.”

Look, I haven't seen this film, but I'm already close to certain that it's all but CIA propaganda. I've told my friends as much, and I've encouraged anyone I can to avoid it. It seems bent on pushing the idea that torture is awesome, and that offends me pretty deeply. It also seems like war porn, which is something that disgusts me.

Also, Glenn Greenwald has a history of high-toned political cant that really bugs me. He's a bit of a blowhard, and he tends to grab credit whenever he can. And his writing doesn't generally seem to owe much to the truth about things. The fact that he took so long to see this movie, but couldn't be bothered to wait until he did to write the piece, is an example. He reminds me a lot of Matt Taibbi in this regard, although Greenwald is a bit more histrionic where Taibbi is more acerbic.

The fact that I don't like Glenn Greenwald absolutely does not mean that I condone torture. I'm kind of baffled that you'd say it would. I guess I can imagine that you'll respond that by "a lot of you" you didn't mean "people who criticize Glenn Greenwald," but since there's no other antecedent that might have been implied, at best I'm left with assuming that you said that as a kind of vague curse.

If you think anybody here is apologizing for torture, just come out and goddamned well say it. Quote the apology itself. It might be an implied apology, but for heaven's sake don't toss around that accusation without at least explaining how an apology for torture was implied.
posted by koeselitz at 11:39 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


> The fact that he took so long to see this movie, but couldn't be bothered to wait until he did to write the piece, is an example.

The article discusses this question at great length: have you considered addressing Mr. Greenwald's arguments on the matter?

"[I have not seen this film and thus am obviously not purporting to review it; I am, instead, writing about the reaction to the film: the way in which its fabrications about the benefits of torture seem to be no impediment to its being adored and celebrated.]"

[...]

"I'm writing here about two issues:

(1) those reviewers who state that the film glorifies torture with falsehoods yet nonetheless praise the film as great; I'm arguing that this should not be possible since their view that it contains falsehood-ridden torture glorification should preclude that sort of praise; and,

(2) the fact that the film asserts, falsely, that torture helped the US find bin Laden, which is a fabrication and an inexcusable one at that, one that inevitable leads to the glorification of torture for the reasons I expressed; nobody, including the filmmakers, disputes that the film does this.

It's not a review of the film. It's a critique of the viewpoints expressed by reviewers and the filmmakers. Anyone claiming I've reviewed this film is plagued either by severe reading comprehension problems and/or a desire to distort."

[...]

"If writers at major media outlets who review the film all say the film shows torture being helpful in finding bin Laden - all while the film's director runs around the country praising herself for her journalistic approach to the film while the film's screenwriter defends this artistic license to depict the non-existent value of torture (as he did to Filkins) - then people are going to talk about that, and they should. They're also going to talk about reviewers who simultaneously gush about the film while noting that it falsely depicts torture as helping find bin Laden, and they should do that also.

That so many reviewers walked away with a pro-torture message from the film - that torture was key to finding bin Laden - means that large numbers of viewers likely will as well, regardless of the after-the-fact claimed intent of the filmmakers. That, by itself, is highly problematic and worthy of commentary.

I wasn't previously aware of this rule imposing a blackout on discussing film reviews that appear in major media outlets prior to the film's opening. It's an inane prohibition, and particularly strange to watch film critics, who write these pre-opening reviews, lead the way in imposing this blackout period on discussing what they write."

--

Also: I don't believe that my words could be construed that criticizing Greenwald equates to being an apologist for torture, but I'm sorry if you got that impression. There are definitely apologists for torturers but they are basically a proper subset of the Greenwald detractors. The second subject is something reasonable people can disagree on. (Tiny edits here to clarify my words and fixing spelling errors...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:57 AM on December 14, 2012


The CIA's Historic Friendship With Iran And Iraq
posted by homunculus at 12:50 PM on December 14, 2012


If viewers, having seen a film, say that the film taught them something about history that isn't true, you don't need to watch the film yourself to say there's a problem with it.
posted by straight at 3:03 PM on December 14, 2012


Senate intel panel approves torture report
posted by homunculus at 10:49 PM on December 14, 2012


New Red Dawn Film as watched by racist idiots.

AFAIR Red Dawn is completely over the top ridiculous, yet it has this effect.
posted by marienbad at 6:14 AM on December 15, 2012


Has torture become acceptable? A new Hollywood film suggests that harsh CIA interrogation techniques led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
posted by homunculus at 10:37 AM on December 17, 2012


Here's more on the letter from Panetta to McCain which was mentioned in the above link:

Private letter from CIA chief undercuts claim torture was key to killing Bin Laden
posted by homunculus at 10:57 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I understand Greenwald's concerns here, but I don't think much of his skills as a film critic. That's why I'm glad Glenn Kenny took the time to post a comprehensive takedown last night. People who conflate fiction and journalism are so often disappointed by the former when it lacks the clarity of the latter.
posted by Mothlight at 5:50 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kenny's review points to a good piece by Jane Mayer: Zero Conscience in “Zero Dark Thirty”
posted by homunculus at 1:25 PM on December 18, 2012


Scott Lemieux weighs in:
Here’s the thing: in not wanting to show they complex internal debate about torture within the executive branch, Bigelow (whatever the results, which I still can’t evaluate) is following a very sound instinct. Obviously, this debate is of immense moral and historical importance, for which reason I can’t recommend Mayer’s The Dark Side strongly enough. But trying to do in a fiction film what Mayer’s 400 page nonfiction book does is almost certainly a terrible idea. Putting various position papers about issues of the day into the mouths of characters is about as sure a path to bad art as there is. As I mentioned when this first came up, Robert Redford already made the movie that some of Bieglow’s critics want her to have made about the Iraq War, and the only way it could have been worse is if it had been directed by Joel Schumacher. And of course there’s The Newsroom, also motivated by a desire to tell the audience what to think about national issues of undeniable importance, and an aesthetic train wreck that also tells any reasonably well-informed person nothing they didn’t already know. I don’t think these aren’t exceptions; I think they’re the rule. Art is not apolitical and often carries political insights (good or bad), but these are best accomplished by implication rather than by polemic. The philistine reduction of art to politics generally leads to bad art and useless politics.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:19 PM on December 18, 2012


What I think is missing from many of these critiques of Greenwald is that he doesn't really care about the movie, he cares about the practice and acceptance of torture in our country.

I care a lot less about being fair to this (or any other movie) than I care about the increasing level of acceptance for torture in this country. I don't care if it's a great film or not. If I see people watching the film and then talking about how torture is justified in certain circumstances, I'm going to hate the film and criticize it publicly.

I don't know that agree with Lemieux that it's not possible to make a movie critical of torture that doesn't suck. But if it really is impossible to make a good movie on this subject without making some people feel more justified in using torture to hunt terrorists, then don't make that movie.
posted by straight at 3:13 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't care if it's a great film or not. If I see people watching the film and then talking about how torture is justified in certain circumstances, I'm going to hate the film and criticize it publicly.

Surely you recognize that films rarely have a single meaning, or a fundamentally "correct" interpretation. Smart people will often disagree on these things — and that's a notion that Greenwald's piece tries to shout down, arguing essentially that there's just one correct reading of Zero Dark Thirty and also that it's his.

If it really is impossible to make a good movie on this subject without making some people feel more justified in using torture to hunt terrorists, then don't make that movie.

You say "some people" here, but which people are you talking about? Most people who see the film? A small portion of them? Or just any chucklehead who derives a simplistic message from a complicated or even conflicted narrative?

I haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty yet, so I feel pretty strongly that I should keep my trap shut about the specifics of that film. But let's take Bigelow's previous film, The Hurt Locker, for example. I watched that film and thought on it for a while before deciding I had seen a deeply unsettling story about the dulled feelings of a man who would, after his return from a tour of duty to civilian life, abandon his wife and child in order to once again throw himself into harm's way. In the row behind me were a couple of well-muscled dudebros with buzz cuts carrying girls on their arms, and they were totally pumped up and generally boo-RAH that shit was SICK, bro! about the whole thing.

So if you're trying to figure out whether or not you hate a movie by listening to what other people who have seen it are saying about it, doesn't The Hurt Locker present some difficulty? If you talked to me about it, you might decide it's a sobering movie about the psychopathology of the professional soldier. And if you talked to one of the ripped gents behind me, you might consider it a jingoistic propaganda piece about the American soldier as ultimate bad-ass.

Whose perspective do you privilege here? Mine? Or the muscleheads? If the latter, then I suppose you'd advise Bigelow that she should not have made that movie. You might think that the damage that could be done by a jingoistic propaganda piece outweighs any good that could come from a more nuanced and ambiguous work. But then I submit that what you're really doing is catering to the lowest common denominator. And that, so often, is how bad art is made.
posted by Mothlight at 5:00 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, heh, this may be the first time Devin Faraci and Glenn Kenny have agreed on anything.
posted by Mothlight at 6:03 PM on December 18, 2012


Surely you recognize that films rarely have a single meaning, or a fundamentally "correct" interpretation. Smart people will often disagree on these things — and that's a notion that Greenwald's piece tries to shout down, arguing essentially that there's just one correct reading of Zero Dark Thirty and also that it's his.

Sure, but Greenwald was basing a lot of his criticism on authorial intent based on the statements of the filmmakers which Glenn Kenny kind of handwaved away in his own decision to decide the meaning of the film based purely on what he saw.

If authorial intent is on the table, Greenwald is free to criticize that suggested meaning as if it is the only one that matters from his more political point of view.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:10 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kenny's review points to a good piece by Jane Mayer
-
"Kathryn Bigelow...milks the U.S. torture program for drama while sidestepping the political and ethical debate that it provoked. In her hands, the hunt for bin Laden is essentially a police procedural, devoid of moral context. If she were making a film about slavery in antebellum America, it seems, the story would focus on whether the cotton crops were successful." - Jane Mayer, New Yorker

Ouch.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:14 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Surely you recognize that films rarely have a single meaning, or a fundamentally "correct" interpretation.

Of course. But I think sometimes it's legitimate to say, "I don't care about the actual contents of this film and the things they could mean. I care about it's effects, whether it does more harm than good." And that's something you can measure without ever seeing the film.

You say "some people" here, but which people are you talking about? Most people who see the film? A small portion of them?


Here you're getting closer to the issue I'm talking about. What are the effects of this film? How many people watch it and find themselves more in favor of using torture than before they saw it?

We don't know of course. But how much risk are you willing to take? If there's the possibility that a film you're making could increase public support for torture, that it could help spread misinformation about the efficacy of torture, how worthwhile does your film have to be to justify taking that risk?

And if I'm someone gravely concerned about the recent changes in our society's acceptance of torture, how much proof do I need that a film might exacerbate that problem before I'm allowed to start criticizing it? (And note that I say criticizing, not censoring.)
posted by straight at 9:09 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


BBC: The letter, made public on Wednesday, was co-signed by Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and former Presidential candidate John McCain.

The trio, all of whom are members of the Senate Intelligence committee, said that Sony and its CEO, Michael Lynton, had an obligation to alter the movie.

posted by Drinky Die at 6:38 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman were on Up With Chris Hayes today talking about the film, its portrayal of torture, and its use of 9/11 imagery.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:37 AM on December 22, 2012


Renditions continue under Obama, despite due-process concerns
posted by homunculus at 7:20 PM on January 2, 2013


'Zero Dark Thirty's' torture implication prompts Senate inquiry: Intelligence Committee members dispute suggestion that torture advanced the hunt for Osama bin Laden and ask if CIA misled filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal.
posted by homunculus at 5:09 PM on January 3, 2013


CIA Official Who Destroyed Torture Tapes Squirms at Zero Dark Thirty Abuse
posted by homunculus at 11:11 AM on January 4, 2013


The Colbert Report: Bin Laden Film Controversy - Since America is long overdue for a thorough investigation into its use of torture in movies, the Senate Intelligence Committee goes after "Zero Dark Thirty."
posted by homunculus at 9:33 AM on January 9, 2013


John Brennan’s ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Problem
posted by homunculus at 9:41 AM on January 9, 2013


"Zero Dark Thirty" And The CIA's Hollywood Coup: How the invisible hand of the premiere American intelligence agency produced an Oscar contender.
posted by homunculus at 12:00 PM on January 10, 2013


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