There’s a reason Zero Dark Thirty is in the news for its torture controversy. I watched Bigelow’s appearance in Colbert Report a week or so ago and not once did she talk about the film. Let me rephrase that, not once did she mention a word about the film as a work of screen but rather the controversy surrounding the film. Sure, may be it was her 60 second for promoting the film. What about Jessica Chastain a week earlier on Jon Stewart. She, too, never said a word about the film’s main point. She implied that the film generates dialogue by asking us “Where do you want to go?” as the films last words. My answer was, “I want to go online and ramble about how much time you wasted building this thing up only to never deliver!”
Let me back up a bit and acknowledge my misconceptions. I went into this film only knowing the controversy surrounding the torture used and [SPOILER ALERT] Osama will be captured and killed. In Chastain’s interview with Stewart, she implied that the film will be seen from Maya’s (Chastain’s character) angle. I expected the film to introduce me to Maya and at least get me to view and understand this whole ordeal through her eyes. Bigelow did this brilliantly last time around with Hurt Locker. I got to know the Iraq/Afghan war through the eyes of a battle zone addict marine which helped me gain a new perspective as opposed to my simpleton assumptions. Even a documentary like Restepo, through clever editing and camera work, allowed me to understand the dynamics of a regiment. Zero Dark Thirty offered none of this. Who didn’t know that torture was used? Whether it was cohesive in the attainment of high ranked terrorists’ information will never be clear but enough has been written and filmed about it. The subject of torture was in the news well before this film was even conceived. Most people were aware of the Abu Gharib scandal. And Bigelow’s new film added nothing to the discussion.
Now Chastain’s interview tried to imply that Maya was the focal point of the film. And here’s why the film failed. Maya is as shallow as a low tide. There’s a brilliant bit in the trailer where she’s asked by the CIA director whether she has done anything else other than Osama’s pursuit. She answers, “Nothing, nothing else.” And that summed her up for me. We know nothing about her. Whether this is to allure us into the mysterious background of CIA operatives then it fails terribly. In an ironic twist her coworker, the interrogator/torturer we see in the beginning of the film, happens to have deeper character background than Maya. He has his domesticated birds in an army camp, tries to leave the Middle East after staying for little too long for his own liking and acts like a mentor to Maya. We understand why he does the things he does. This is not to say that we are tricked into agreeing with him but at least we understand his side. Maya is quite the opposite. Some will say that she was fueled by the loss of her friend, Jessica but that isn’t even doing the film any justice (Side note: I loved Jessica. She was probably the best character in the whole film). As a matter of fact, their relationship felt very forced. From the earlier scenes you could tell that the two were written just so they could be friends. Typical manly-serious-female character against homely-girl coworker. (What is it with female characters forced to appear as masculine as possible in order to be regarded as strong?) Feminism film theories aside, this whole dynamic was just wrong.
Now to anyone who feels that Maya was even remotely deep I pose one question. Remove Maya from the screen. Replace her with anything. Does the film feel significantly different?