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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Controversy in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

A man hangs suspended in the dark; his face is bloodied, his lungs waterlogged, and heavy metal blares so that he cannot sleep. He is here because he is alleged to have financially aided the 9/11 bombers.

This is one of the earliest scenes in Kathryn Bigelow’s film “Zero Dark Thirty,” which has been nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture. Bigelow won Best Picture in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker,” which also illustrates military action in the Middle East.

Controversy over the depiction of torture in various scenes throughout the movie has overshadowed its critical acclaim. Several members of the Academy who recently nominated the film for their top award are now calling for it to be boycotted.

In an article he wrote for Truthout, actor and Academy member David Clennon argues that the film’s moral is that “torture sometimes works” comparing its lack of morality to that of the film “The Birth of a Nation,” which is commonly stigmatized as racist.

Bigelow confronted these negative perceptions of her film in a recent article for the Los Angeles Times stating, “in the arts … depiction is not endorsement.”

However, in his article for The New York Review of Books, Steve Coll argues that where “Zero Dark Thirty” fails is not in what it depicts about torture, but what it fails to depict about torture. Coll argues that the film fails to portray the CIA and FBI officials who questioned the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

This view of the notorious manhunt for Osama bin Laden may be partially due to the film’s limited approach in following one central character known as “Maya,” played by Jessica Chastain.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Robert Duncan points out that this hunt was really a “very complex effort involving hundreds of analysts, not one woman.”

Regarding the concept of torture in the film, Duncan said, “torture exists, people do it,” but continued, “information from torture is useless … someone would admit to being Elvis’s love child.”

In her article for Los Angeles Times Bigelow concludes, “I think Osama bin Laden was found due to ingenious detective work. Torture was, however — as we all know — employed in the early years of the hunt.”

“That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden,” Bigelow continued. “It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War obviously isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.”

“Zero Dark Thirty” is now playing in movie theaters across the U.S.

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