Thursday, January 31, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty and Bruce

Zero Dark Thirty and Bruce
P. Schultz
January 31, 2013

            Here is my movie review of “Zero Dark Thirty.” A couple of things have occurred to me since I saw the movie.

            First and least important, the movie is about 30 minutes or so too long. I don’t mean the last scenes of killing bin Laden need to be cut although some editing there might have been possible but that throughout there are places where less would have been more.

            Second: I believe some critics of the movie have failed to see that Bigelow, the director, was not simply endorsing torture, although there are good reasons to think she was doing so. [See below, #3.] That she wasn’t was indicated for me by the fact that Maya, the woman who was obsessed with “getting” bin Laden, was reduced to tears after she identified his body. That is, whatever that might mean, it certainly meant that she wasn’t going to go out drinking and celebrating his death. And this makes me wonder how those who were cheering bin Laden’s death in theaters, as reports have said happened, felt then. Did they realize that Maya did not share their jubilation? And why didn’t she? Which brings me to the following.

            Third and I think most important: There is a “missing character” in the movie which lends weight to those who have criticized the movie and Bigelow for endorsing torture or, at best, not raising questions about it. The character I have in mind would be someone like Thomas Fowler in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, an older Englishman who tries to “tame” a young American, Alden Pyle, who is all gung ho about “saving” Vietnam from the Communists and the French. Fowler is old enough and scarred enough to know that action, especially political and/or military action, is fraught with danger, both to those who are supposedly being benefitted and those who are doing the benefitting. As Fowler says at one point, Pyle’s innocence is a kind of madness.

Also, another character that comes to mind is Gust Avrakotos in the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War. Avrakotos is a CIA agent, older and also scarred like Fowler, who knows enough to know that what seems like “success,” such as driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, might not prove to lasting. He quotes a Zen master whose mantra is, “We'll see.” For example, when a boy received a horse as gift, everyone said, “Oh, that’s so nice.” The master says, “We’ll see.” Then the boy falls off the horse and breaks his leg and all comment that that is too bad. Again, “We’ll see.” Then war breaks out and the broken leg keeps the boy out of the war and people say, “That’s good.” And, once again, “We’ll see.” And as he was CIA, he seems like a fitting character for Zero Dark Thirty. Surely, there was someone like that somewhere in our government.

            There is no character like this in Zero Dark Theater, although there are hints that the situation would accommodate such a character. Dan the torturer is drained and Maya weeps at the end, after her obsession is, perhaps, satisfied. [Are obsessions ever really satisfied?] But without a character like Fowler or Avrakotos, there is no way for the movie to develop what struck me as I watched it: How can human beings treat other human beings inhumanly, torturing them and killing them at will, and not notice that they become inhuman too? Or: Doesn’t anyone notice that the self-righteous all too often act in indecent and even inhuman ways?

            Which brings me to Bruce Springsteen and his song, “Devils and Dust.” Here is a portion of the lyrics:
"I got God on my side
"I'm just trying to survive
"What if what you do to survive kills the things you love..."
            I believe Bruce got it right and did so in a way clearer than the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Survival, while primary, is not most important. If we survive but become inhuman while doing so, what have we done to ourselves? “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  [Mark 8:35}

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