In honor of Kathryn Bigelow’s new soon-to-be-released movie Detroit, it felt like the right time to talk about one of her previous successes, Zero Dark Thirty.
I’m not gonna lie, I don’t typically go for action and adventure movies; they’re just too violent and gory for me most of the time. But knowing that this movie was directed by the first and only woman to receive the Best Director Academy Award for The Hurt Locker, I decided to go against my norm. And I’m glad I did.
Zero Dark Thirty is a slow yet intense burn. I was captivated from the start.
The movie opens with real 911 recordings, voicemails and radio communications on 9/11. The most heart wrenching was hearing a terrified woman trapped in one of the New York City Twin Towers say that she was going to die.
Throughout the film, significant dates in the post-9/11 Osama Bin Laden hunt were noted, and when they came up, I thought of where I was and what I was doing in my own life at that time. One of them was my wedding day. What a reminder of how easy it is to be so removed and oblivious to the major issues and conflicts the world experiences.
Because I was younger (and by that, I mean late teens and early 20s) when all of the events started, I only remember hearing about some of the headlines in the news while I lived in Iowa. I wasn’t directly or personally affected so the gravity of the situation never really hit me. I guess I was numb to hearing about death and destruction every day in the news. How awful is that?
After the gripping beginning, we see Maya (Jessica Chastain, Interstellar, The Help) as she begins her new assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan. She is there to help find and kill Osama bin Laden. It isn’t long before she is out in the field accompanying fellow officer, Dan (Jason Clarke, Everest, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), to a black site as he interrogates detainees using approved torture interrogation techniques.
When I was in college, I was part of a production that was done as a protest to the War Against Terrorism. One of its major protesting points was the treatment of detainees. Pictures of tortured detainees were shown as part of the show. So perhaps I was a little biased to believe that the detainee interrogation scenes in the movie were inhumane. Regardless, I couldn’t help but wonder how anybody could do that to another person.
Sexism was also definitely present in Zero Dark Thirty. When Maya has information, she is doubted, scrutinized, talked down to and made to prove herself. But when her male colleague doesn’t have any information, he’s met with understanding and camaraderie. It’s frustrating to see representations of women having to work three times harder to make the same point as a man.
Also notable was the relationship between the only two women operatives. Because Zero Dark Thirty represents the American Army as a man’s world, and because women have to fight to be seen, the women hate on each other. And so began the relationship between Maya and Jessica (Jennifer Ehle, The Fundamentals of Caring, Fifty Shades of Grey). However, the two later become friends and band together to fight for a common cause.
The cinematography and sound design of Zero Dark Thirty are simple and realistic. They add to the tension. Although I knew how the movie would end, the narrative unfolds slow and steady without losing any intensity. I was on the edge of my seat as the SEALs completed the decade-long operation.
Near the beginning of the movie, Maya’s boss, Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights, Carol) asks her, “You volunteered for this right?” Her immediate and earnest answer was, “No.” And I can understand why. The dangers are very real for her. She can’t show her face in public because it is too risky. She also tells a new woman co-worker not to eat out, as it’s too dangerous. For virtually every moment of the last 10 years, she has been in mortal danger.
Chastain’s performance as Maya is captivating and moving. Maya is vulnerable yet has nerves of steel. Throughout the movie, we see Maya visibly reacting to the atrocities around her but also standing her ground. She is human. And that makes this story that much more powerful.
Zero Dark Thirty asks what cost must we pay for justice? Do the ends really justify the means? Do we really have to actively fight terrorists and respond with violence? Is war really the answer?
I have to admit that I have my doubts. Deep down I cannot help but believe that there is another way, a better way. Zero Dark Thirty most certainly raised more questions for me than it answered, but I think that’s the point. The most prominent and recurring question for me though was, where is the love?