There is a scene in the film where a character walks into a room and lashes out a tirade about 9/11 and how they haven't done anything about it for years. He ends his speech by saying â€œDo your f****n' jobs, bring me people to killâ€. Be it scenes like these or the torture scenes. I'm not sure whether Kathryn Bigelow, fresh off her successful filmmaking run with The Hurt Locker (2009), is talking about the morals involved. Depiction is not endorsement, she says. In every interview she has been giving since 2009, she describes her films as a â€œboots on the ground experienceâ€. While they aren't documentaries, they are meant to put you smack into the action.
Zero Dark Thirty is about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden (or UBL - U for Usama, like the pretentious CIA types would call it). We already know the ending, no spoilers there. The film begins with voices of the victims of 9/11 over a black screen and the rest is a journalistic account of the intelligence proceedings for the most part while the last half hour is the actual raid on the compound, which housed the enemy. The protagonist is Maya (Jessica Chastain), a woman who wants the antagonist dead. It is interesting to note Maya is the Sanskrit word for illusion. It is the physical and mental reality that our consciousness is stuck in.
Personally, I am interested in a film like this because the filmmaker is more interested in the people who are involved in bringing the man down than the hunt itself. Who are these people? Just like James in The Hurt Locker, which wasn't exactly a film about the Iraq war but the kind of people who choose to be in the midst of war. Not the ones who create war or finish wars but those who are directly affected by it because of the nature of their jobs. Somebody must have these jobs, right? What kind of a person would take up such a job? Maya and James are two sides of the same coin. I could also find a direct parallel with one of Bigelow's early films - Blue Steel (1989). A film ridiculed for its illogical plot but stands as one of my favorite films by her. It is about a woman hunting a psychotic serial killer. She is obsessed with bringing him down and for most of the film, she works on a hunch.
You have to hand it to Bigelow for her terrific filmmaking technique. Certain scenes are chilling and quite simply staggering. You also have to hand it to Jessica Chastain and her astonishing performance. Watching her relentlessness and slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with is a thrill to watch. For me, it all actually comes down to the one moment at the very end of the film, my favorite one in the film. (Revealing more would be a spoiler)
Bigelow loves men and women who are devoted to their jobs. They are driven by one thing, one drug. Their lives are centered on getting their fix. I don't know if I can ever love her films wholeheartedly apart from Near Dark (1987). Although, I do know this, if there ever were movies to be made around the Iraq War or the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, nobody could have made better ones. Not because I love these films but because this is the most I could love films like these.
I also know she is one of the most important filmmakers of our time. Not just for what she means as an icon for women in filmmaking, but for political filmmaking. Anybody could have made a film about the killing of Bin Laden. It is the perfect recipe for American jingoism. Paraphrasing from the film, this is not political, it is a risk. Kathryn Bigelow gives the American public the action thriller they need, but she also gives them conversations about the long process of capturing a global villain. She gives them a cathartic climax with Bin Laden being executed (who has become a faceless enemy) but she leaves them with a question: Where do you want to go from here, America? I'd like to end my review with a quote by a political icon that is not used in the film but struck me right after the film ended: â€œAn eye for an eye makes the whole world blindâ€.view less