There is a bit of disagreement about Zero Dark Thirty among those who are completely in agreement about the politics. Let’s start with the agreement. First, torture is wrong. I am so angry I even have to write that, because when I was a kid, that was a given. Anyway. Second, torture is not effective. Third, torture did not lead to finding Osama bin Laden.
This is a big deal, because sadly, there are many people in this country who don’t agree with any of those statements. We know that Dick Cheney doesn’t. He might say that torture is unfortunate, but given that the “evil doers” use it, we must. So we are talking about people who are firmly on the liberal side of this issue—also known as the right side.
Jane Mayer at The New Yorker really takes the film to task. She calls Kathryn Bigelow a torture apologist. Bigelow defends herself on this score, claiming that she’s just showing the way things were. But Mayer goes to some length to show this isn’t true. The torture in the first half hour of the film is not there to say, “Hey! Look what we did!” Instead, it is there to say, “Hey! Look how we found bin Laden!”
Andrew Sullivan, in contrast, writes an article titled, Kathryn Bigelow: Not A Torture Apologist. Strangely, however, in defending Bigelow, he is making an even more fierce attack on the United States government:
He later writes, “The torture was not for intelligence… It was for revenge.” But after reading the whole review (that is well worth reading), I was left asking, “How is Bigelow not an apologist?”
Apparently, a lot of people wondered the same thing. Today, he wrote another article in which he specifically counters Jane Mayer’s argument. And frankly, I think he digs himself even further in. Basically, he’s saying that of course these CIA people would self-justify. They would have to in order to live with themselves. But this shows that Sullivan has an extremely primitive notion of storytelling. There is no such thing as objective fiction. You can present people doing vile things without showing agreement. And Sullivan must know this, because he notes that Bigelow presents these horror without judging them positive or negative. But that itself is a judgement.
Sullivan goes on to argue that Bigelow is a moral coward. But somehow, she is not an apologist. Still, he writes this, “One has to wonder whether any morally serious director would have chosen a morally-neutral approach to torture if she were portraying torture practiced by, say, the Iranian terror state, or by Nazis or Communists?”
I think this is yet another case of Andrew Sullivan being uncomfortable with who he is. He claims to be a conservative, yet the issues that drive him are all liberal. So I think this is a case: he doesn’t want to be part of the liberal bandwagon who are attacking Zero Dark Thirty. But he actually thinks it is even worse than all the liberals are claiming.
As for me: I would like to see the film so I could say for myself. But I know that at best it would just be another Hollywood action/suspense film with little to recommend it. You know: an Oscar contender.