Because the plot revolves around information gathered from detainees subjected to so called 'enhanced interrogation methods' which, according to the movie, contributed in locating Osama Bin Laden, many critics have gone so far as to condemn this movie, claiming it to be pro-torture in essence. I myself felt a little ill at ease immediately after viewing the movie as I tried to process what exactly it was attempting to say. There is no doubt that if, like me, you abhor the disregard to basic human dignity of any individual, this movie will, at best, be challenging. However, I believe 'challenging' can be a good thing!
The director, Kathryn Bigelow, maintains she was simply making a historical representation of the events leading up to locating Osama Bin Laden. However, it has been argued that the importance of critical information supposedly obtained from detainees, was either non-existent or has been greatly exaggerated or by the movie. This feature then raises the age old question of whether or not the film maker has a responsibility in the stories he/she tells, especially in a historical context, and if so, where do these responsibilities lie? Was it irresponsible to depict that the inhumane treatment of individuals can lead to a positive net effect? Yet, taking the hypothetical assumption that the interrogation methods did yield critical information in real life, might it not have been a greater crime then, to simply fluff over aspects of history in an attempt to exude political correctness? That is, if the torture scenes were left out and their context not assimilated into a truth that was, would we not then, whether by good or bad intension, be rewriting history with a glossy coat?
I can understand perfectly well why some anti-torture organisations are angered by this movie, but I would argue that sometimes groups pushing an agenda --even where it be a socially positive one-- often fall into the trap of assuming that the greater audience will simply act like a sponge and 'soak up' what is fed to them in a rudimentary fashion. And so, without wanting to fall into the trap of assuming what others will take out of the movie, I decided to adopt the introspective approach and see if it changed my views in any way. Just say torture did lead to finding Osama Bin Laden, did that then change my view in the use of enhanced interrogation methods? Indeed, I remember living through those years and hearing very technical debates on the precise definition of torture: Of whether 'water boarding' could be considered torture? Was torture defined by bodily harm? Was it defined by death? And if so, without the result of even bruising, could sleep deprivation really be considered torture? ...and so forth. By focusing these debates on individual aspects of enhanced interrogation, they perhaps had a diminishing effect upon the issue as a whole. Whereas ZDT delivers a brutal and vivid representation, liberated perhaps from the limits of minimising definition. We, as the audience, whether we condoned or condemned such techniques, are forced to watch what that reality surmounts to.
By not overtly condemning such methods, or at least by seemingly standing on the fence on such issues, the movie avoids preaching to, or patronising its audience, but instead leaves us to shift through some unsettling contradictions and draw our own conclusions. I believe its true voice is therefore both subtle and subversive. Even the main characters are quite contentious and provocative. Dan (played by Jason Clarke) seems to take near sadistic pleasure --or at least pride-- in his methods of interrogation. Right from the opening shot, we are left with an unsettling feeling as we see one of the detainees stung up, too weak to stand, yet, due to his restraints, unable to lie down. Maya, the main character (Jessica Chastain), is obviously disturbed, but still, whether through a sense of duty or patriotism, not only watches without protest, but later, through the actions in her own interrogations, seems to have come to condone such practices. Where then does that leave us as the audience? Can we sympathise with such characters? And yet, as we watch their stresses and strains; the emotional exhaustion and the mental anguish, we are only but compelled to be at least a little sympathetic towards the conditioning and dehumanising factor of their job. Does that then make us somewhat complicit? Are we drawn into their world of 'us versus them'? At every corner, at every consideration, the movie challenges our sense of justice, of patriotism, of righteousness. Perhaps there may well be those who watch this and immediately conclude that the ends do justify the means, but this is a movie with many layers and it has a residual effect that continues to nag, to pluck, and question our ideologies well after the movie is over. As part of the wider western word, we are only now beginning to pick up the pieces from a decade long War on Terror, and now we must try to reconcile, rather than flinch away, from a history that has as many dark corners as it had a hunger to seek out and find justice. This movie, without shame and without quivering, lifts the rock on as many ugly truths and makes us look inward at ourselves, as much as it closes the book on potentially the greatest manhunt in human history.
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