Saturday, January 12, 2013
Two thumbs up for Zero Dark Thirty?
Ever since seeing Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ during its theatrical run, I have had little patience for people who protest against films they haven't seen. While I've never much cared for that movie - mostly notable to me for housing by far the weirdest casting of John Lurie in a motion picture - there was absolutely nothing that I could see that would offend a thinking Christian about it, nothing in the slightest disrespectful or blasphemous; I should imagine that many of the same Christians who protested against it, had they stumbled onto the film in a different context, unaware of any controversy, would not have been bothered by it in the slightest. They only got as riled up as they did because they were exposed, before they had a chance to see it and make up their own minds, to a misinformed, prejudicial, highly limited interpretation of the film ("It shows Christ having sex!" - which indeed it does, though as part of a Satanic temptation, in fact the titular one, which Christ ultimately rejects). Since bearing witness to said Christians' confusion - though there were no pickets at the Vancouver theatre where I caught it in 1988 - I've considered such herd reactions contemptible, proof of little besides how easily some people can be manipulated, and have generally subscribed to a policy of seeing things for myself before forming conclusions about them - a policy I've applied to all manner of controversial films and books, from Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho (almost banned in Canada) to A Serbian Film (only available in North America in a censored cut). That policy has served me quite well up til now, and I had figured I would maintain it for the rest of my life.
Then along came Zero Dark Thirty.
Understand, I have great admiration for two of Kathryn Bigelow's early features, Near Dark and Blue Steel. I've seen all her other feature films, with the exception of her own movie with Willem Dafoe, The Loveless. Aware of the impending release of Zero Dark Thirty, but before any of the controversies around it cropped up, I've been playing catchup, seeing films of hers I'd ignored (The Weight of Water, K-19: The Widowmaker) or revisiting films of hers that initially disappointed or annoyed me (for reasons unclear to me, both Point Break and Strange Days proved to be a lot more enjoyable on second viewing than they were at the time of their first release; I even enjoyed The Hurt Locker more on second viewing). I actually was really looking forward to Bigelow's new film, and its meaty topic - the pursuit and killing of Osama bin Laden.
While I have no intention of standing in front of a theatre with a picket sign ("Torture is Not Okay!"), I think I'm deciding, unless offered money or other inducements to see it, that, in light of what I've been reading, that I am going to simply ignore this film; and I'm publicly going to suggest, here and now, that others follow suit. This is entirely because various progressive commentators and critics are describing it as not only falsifying the historical record, but doing so in a way that legitimizes torture (see here, here, or here for some examples; even John McCain has taken issue with the film). Enough people have written enough about it, lucidly and coherently, making more or less the same arguments, that I am willing to believe what they say without further consideration. I have no compulsion to see the film and decide for myself - and especially not if it involves paying money to do so: you can't effectively boycott something you have to pay for in advance, and last I heard, movie theatres were not inclined to offer refunds because viewers decided after seeing a film that it was politically immoral.
There are still, as of this writing, 166 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. It used to be 167, but one recently killed himself, after eleven years of illegal confinement without access to any form of due process. Barack Obama has done nothing to live up to his promises to close that prison, nor has he done anything to take the Bush war criminals to task for their use of torture, extraordinary rendition, or their illegal and immoral war in Iraq. In fact, just this summer, Obama granted immunity to the CIA in two cases where detainees were tortured to death. I am horrified that, apparently as the result of the US voting a black man into the office of the President, a collective amnesia about the Bush regime and its very recent crimes has been allowed to settle in. While I definitely prefer Obama to what's behind the door on the right, there has been no justice, no closure, no compensation for the hundreds (thousands?) of people exposed to American "enhanced interrogation techniques" and stripped of their human rights; the very ugly chapter in American history that began on September 11, 2001 is by no means closed.
All indications are that Zero Dark Thirty is a propaganda exercise designed to further stupefy, placate, and mislead the American people. I do not need to see it for myself to feel confident of this. In fact, I do not need to see it at all. Perhaps someday, years from now, I can check it out of a library on DVD or Blu-Ray or whatever the format of the moment is and decide if I made the right call. Until such a time, to hell with Zero Dark Thirty.