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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Zero Dark Thirty can be found here.
CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain), assigned to Pakistan to learn how to apply 'enhanced interrogation' (i.e., torture of prisoners) in order to seek out information about al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (Ricky Sekhon), becomes obsessed with the search. After several years of pursuing leads, Maya believes that she may have found his whereabouts, and a U.S. Navy SEAL team is sent out to kill or capture bin Laden.
Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatized account of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden following the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The screenplay was written by American journalist/screenwriter Mark Boal.
'Zero Dark Thirty' is military slang for an unspecified time in the early hours of the morning before dawn. The relevance of this term to the film is that the raid on Osama bin Laden's quarters was executed between midnight and 2 AM on May 2, 2011.
The Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA and FBI combined.
Because he was offering them vital intelligence that they had been seeking for nearly a decade. Although they were suspicious, it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up, and they considered it worth the risk.
Because the house was less than a mile from the Pakistani military academy, Pakistan's equivalent of Sandhurst/West Point. Therefore military helicopter flights overhead were not necessarily unusual, they could have put it down to an army night exercise.
Following 9/11 the US was desperate for Americans who could speak Middle Eastern languages. It is possible they could have recruited her directly as she may have been fluent having previously lived in the region or learned them from an acquaintance (boyfriend, stepfather etc). Alternatively Maya could have meant that she joined the military straight from high school and then went on to the CIA.
The focus of the scene was that there were three WOMEN in the house meaning that there had to be at least three men, one of whom was never seen. Nothing said that there couldn't be more than three.
SSE is Sensitive Site Exploitation. NATO forces in Afghanistan developed the technique of taking pictures and gathering weapons, documents, computer files etc from the aftermath of raids in order to disprove any later claims that the terrorists they had killed were unarmed civilians. It also provided valuable intelligence; terrorists the world over are notorious for keeping extensive records for everything they do. Britain made progress against the IRA in the 1920s because the security forces captured so many of IRA leader Michael Collins' documents they had to create an entire department to read them all. In Vietnam the Allies captured up to half a million documents a month from the Viet Cong allowing them to anticipate and largely thwart the famous Tet offensive. Killing Osama Bin-Laden himself was not nearly as important as capturing the huge number of records on his organisation he kept in the house.
After blowing up the downed helicopter, the SEALs fly bin Laden's body to the U.S. operating base in Afghanistan. While the SEALs are unloading and categorizing the tapes, hard drives, and other intelligence materials that they seized from the compound, Maya is led to the body bag. She unzips it, takes a long, hard look at the face, and confirms that it belongs to bin Laden. She then boards a transport plane where she is told to sit anywhere because hers is the only name on the manifest. 'You must be pretty important. Where do you want to go?' the pilot asks, but Maya doesn't reply. In the final scene, she leans her head back against the wall and starts to cry.
It's standard practice to destroy remaining military equipment that can't be salvaged. They do this to mainly prevent enemies from salvaging parts to use against them or others or stealing any advanced technology. Thermite or plastic explosives are commonly used.
Yes and no, all the attacks depicted in the film are based on real events but they are strung together as a connected narrative for the sake of the story, e.g., Maya being in the Marriott at the time of the bombing, which they were not in real life. The scene where the CIA agents in Pakistan are accosted by two armed men on motorbikes is based on a genuine incident but in real life the CIA officer killed them both.
She's a composite character -- Maya is based on several female CIA officers who worked on the bin Laden case in the years before and after 9/11/ In his book 'No Easy Day' former SEAL Mark Bassionette, who was part of the mission which killed bin Laden, mentions a female CIA agent, who he refers to by the pseudonym 'Jen', who worked with the SEAL team on the mission. Just like Maya 'Jen' considers the probability of Bin-Laden being in the house at 100% whilst others are more cautious, she observes the mission from the control room, is there to meet the SEALs when they return with Bin-Laden's corpse and bursts out crying afterwards. In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on American torture practices during the war on terror which referenced the influence of another CIA agent who was used as part of the composite character Maya. While not naming the agent, even with a pseudonym, the report is highly critical of her work, stating that she was a primary cheerleader for ineffective torture techniques and that she lied to Congress in an effort to misrepresent the effectiveness of the CIA's torture program. The report also notes that, prior to 9/11, she supported the decision of a subordinate to withhold from the FBI the fact that two of the 9/11 hijackers, who were on an FBI watch list at the time, had entered the country.
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