Sunday, January 20, 2013

Parody trailer: Zero Dark Thirty

By Frank Moraes

Ed. note: As I haven't seen the movie yet, I'm withholding comment, particularly with respect to its treatment of torture.

But it seems to me that the filmmakers, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, want to have it both ways, claiming it's both a historical document that tells the inside story of the hunt for bin Laden and a somewhat fictionalized account of what happened.

In most cases, this would be fine. Cinematic depictions of true stories always include dramatization. But in this case we're dealing with the issue of torture as well. Bigelow and Boal say that the depiction of torture doesn't amount to an endorsement. They're just showing the way it was. But was it? There is good reason to believe, based on all that we know of what happened, that the facts differ from what is presented in the film, that torture did not in fact lead to the acquisition of useful intelligence. This is why commentators like Glenn Greenwald and leading political figures like John McCain have been so critical of the film: because of its dishonesty, because it is wrong.

Again, normally this wouldn't matter much. There's always some looseness with the facts in historical films. But how are we supposed to have a meaningful discussion about what happened, about torture, based on what's presented in this film, if what's depicted in the film is wrong?



While making dinner recently, I was watching The Rachel Maddow Show. A commercial came on for the film Zero Dark Thirty, which readers of my site will know is a torture apologia that looks like a typical Hollywood action film. It has been attacked by three senators as being "grossly inaccurate."
The commercial had scenes from the movie with periodic quotes from all the idiot critics who are heaping praise on the film. I thought, what if instead we had quotes from the knowledgeable political commentators who have attacked the the film? So I did it, and here it is:

I'm more proud of this than any of the videos I have done, which doesn't say that much. But this came out exactly the way I envisioned. If you like it, give me a thumbs up over on YouTube.

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  • I should have been clear in the writing: the point of this is that there is a big divide between movie "critics" and political observers. I think that everything is political. Whenever I go to a film, I try to put it in context. Films like The Expendables 2 are nothing but evil myths.

    I thought that Matt Taibbi's coverage of the film was the best because he talked about how the audience reacted. And that's the problem. I haven't seen the film, but I have seen no recent Hollywood action film that was not mostly government propaganda.

    The big problem with this film seems to be that the CIA used it as a grand opportunity to rewrite a history for which many of them should be in jail.

    Bigelow's claim that showing torture doesn't endorse it is just rubbish. She is enough of a storyteller to understand that you can show torture in all kinds of ways. When you show heroes torturing and getting good things from that torture, you are endorsing torture. The film could easily have shown the torturers as bad people with the hero reluctantly using the information. Or they could have shown the negative worldwide effects of our torturing program. Or they could have told the truth, which is that the FBI got that critical piece of information before the CIA took over and started torturing. Where are the heroic FBI agents getting good intelligence from rapport-based interrogation? Nowhere in the film because Bigelow wanted to tell the story of how torture was critical to finding bin Laden. Plus: rapport-building isn't really dramatic.

    Friday on Real Time, Martin Short described exactly my experience. When I was a kid, the evil guys were the Japanese during WWII because they tortured. We didn't do that, because we were better than that. Sure: propaganda for young minds. But that was how we at least wanted to see ourselves. Now we want to see ourselves as something out of 15th century Spain.

    By Anonymous Frank Moraes, at 2:33 PM  

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