There is a bit of buzz about the upcoming blockbuster Zero Dark Thirty. It is already getting rave reviews, which goes to the heart of my problem with film “critics”: they aren’t critics, they are ombudsmen. But it is a big mistake to listen to them. They tend to be too pretentious for most movie goers and too stupid for real movie fans. This movie is the newest from the team that brought you The Hurt Locker. And it looks to be the same kind of film: brilliantly constructed and morally abhorrent. I have no intention of seeing it, but I don’t doubt that it is great film making.
Although the film is not yet released, it is getting attention because of its depiction of torture as being instrumental in the hunt for bin Laden. Glenn Greenwald takes the writer and director to task on this point. He notes that the director,Kathryn Bigelow, has been going around the country saying that they took “almost a journalistic approach to film.” But when presented with the fact that numerous sources have claimed that torture played no role in finding bin Laden, she hides under claims of artistic license, “It’s a movie, not a documentary.”
It is all a mush and this is one of many reasons to hate movies “based on a true story.” You are either telling the truth or you are making up a story. If you’re going to introduce torture that wasn’t part of the true story, then you are creating fiction. Worse actually, because the truth that is in your film implies that the fictions are just as true. But Bigelow continues to play both sides by claiming she is depicting, not advocating. But as Greenwald notes, saying that torture was critical to doing the only thing that most Americans feel really good about, is the same as endorsing torture. In fact, he compares Bigelow to Nazi film maker Leni Riefenstahl:
One of the things that has bothered me for the last 11 years is our cultural acceptance of torture. I know that we have always tortured. But we were publicly against it. In films, torturing was almost what defined a villain. James Bond was tortured; he was never the torturer. And then came 9/11 and Dick Cheney’s “dark side” and 24. And now Zero Dark Thirty: torture got bin Laden! Torture is great!