On September 11th, 2001, terrorists crashed passenger jets into the World Trade Center (spoiler). In the aftermath, they forced America to invade two sovereign countries under marginally legal circumstances and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. As if that wasn’t enough, they also forced God-fearing Americans to torture prisoners of war, in defiance of the Geneva Conventions, then forced America to lie about it, and finally forced America to retroactively justify it by finding loopholes in international law.
This movie is the story of America’s efforts to punish those responsible.
So all you terrorists out there who think that you can kill Americans just because your friends are doing it: it stops now. The party’s over, the gloves are off, and Nancy Drew is tired of your shit. It may take her around a decade in reality (or two and a half hours in movie-time), but she will find you, and she will end you. Duke Nukem, the famed diplomat, once said: “I’ll rip your head off and shit down your neck.” He meant it then, and she means it now. Don’t fuck with an undersexed redhead.
Every protagonist needs a suitable antagonist, and Osama Bin Laden is certainly one of the greatest antagonists in contemporary film. While his best film appearance is still his work in Postal, his appearance in Zero Dark Thirty breaks new ground by giving him minimal screentime and absolutely no dialogue. This may have been due to the fact that Bin Laden was, in fact, deceased during the filming of this movie, but I found that his body double gave a very emotionally moving yet quietly sinister performance. He really took those gunshots like a champ. All I’m trying to say is that Osama’s come a long way from those shitty VHS tapes they broadcast on the news during the 90s. He’s successfully transitioned from stationary camerawork and endless talking towards a more subdued expression of his message. It’s a shame that this artistic growth remains unrecognized by the Academy.
Nobody else in the movie matters. It’s a cat and mouse game, where the mouse is invisible and on dialysis, and the cat is somewhat tired and stranded in a laser pointer discotheque. The cat also self-identifies as a “motherfucker”. No word on the mouse’s Oedipal fixations.
During the course of her journey, our protagonist witnesses torture, orders torture, sees one associate leave for greener pastures in Washington, sees another blown up by suicide bombers, is involved in a hotel bombing, spends hours talking to various individuals and analyzing data and DVDs, all without masturbating even once. Her vagina as dry as the sands of the locales she calls home, she is a woman driven by the singular purpose of murdering a man she has never met. Now, he is a dickbag. I’ll give her that. But her obsession is more personal; it is the result of a mind dedicated to solving those seemingly unsolvable puzzles. She could have made major advancements in the arts or sciences, yet she found herself here, with this mission, and could not ever back down from it. The film is fascinating as a character study. It is less fascinating as a political statement.
There was some bruhaha (if I may use a little French) during the release of this film due to its alleged pro-torture stance. I wasn’t really paying attention at the time, as I was probably busy playing one of the Etrian Odyssey games, but trusted sources at Wikipedia note that none other than John McCain came to his senses (after embracing torture during the 2008 election) to now condemn torture, Obama, and this film. Another person also compared director Kathryn Bigelow to Leni Reifenstahl, as both of them have vaginas. There are also the usual conspiracy theories emanating from that towering pillar of integrity in journalism, abovetopsecret.com, which allege that this entire film is a cover for the fact that Osama Bin Laden is currently snorting cocaine off of the breasts of a girl claiming to be 18 in some undisclosed tropical location. All of these people are missing the point.
No, the true crime is that the movie tries to be apolitical about a political topic. In the grand scheme of things, this is not really the worst offense a film about this subject matter could commit. In the interest of clarity, let me say that I did enjoy this film quite a bit. But the lack of acknowledgement of the fact that torture is completely fucked up and does not, as a matter of course, result in reliable intel is problematic. I did like that there were absolutely no scenes where people screamed out the truth under torture. Information is obtained when the person is not tortured, or has not been tortured for some time, or when the intelligence guys finally get off their asses and do some actual work. They could have painted a clearer portrait of the situation to highlight this fact, as well as the fact that many innocent people were tortured and/or killed, but they were already at two and a half hours, and they probably didn’t want Dick Cheney to accidentally shoot them in the face.
But, according to the internet, this film is nothing more than Obama lying to the American people. Where’s the body, Barry? Where’s the body?
Now, Obama is a douchebag, and I have been meaning to present him with his honorary “Drone Strikes High Score” award, but the White House never replies to my emails. His appearance in this film is hilarious for many reasons. One of the major ones is the reactions he induces amongst some of the characters. When they realize that they will no longer be able to torture, they look like men who have just been informed that they need surgery for prostate cancer that will render them impotent. It is as if America itself trembles under the weight of Obama’s liberal pussy agenda. What will we do with ourselves? What do they want us to do? One character even admonishes the President’s men later on, when they demand more proof that the compound is Bin Laden’s hiding place. You shut down the renditions. Who are we supposed to ask? Seriously, when the dog collars and electrodes get put back in the toy box, it’s all over for the intelligence apparatus. Well, at least until they actually do some real fucking work.
All of this leads to the most interesting section of the film, wherein our protagonist chases down new information on an old lead: Osama Bin Laden’s alleged courier. Prior to this, there was a heartbreaking scene where the CIA enhanced interrogation expert lamented the deaths of his favorite monkeys, as well as an extended sequence where our protagonist’s CIA gal pal met her ignominious end, but the movie regains its focus in its second half. If I am allowed a brief digression, I have to ask a question about the suicide bombing that kills our protagonist’s friend. It has nothing to do with the back-and-forth texting leading up to it; even though it reads as if both are busy hastily writing term papers during an all-nighter in college, this did not bother me. What bothered me was the fact that the suicide bomber used the tired phrase “Allah ackbar” before detonation. Can’t these guys get some new material? Just once, I want to hear someone call out “My Sharona!” before entering paradise.
Our fearless protagonist cusses out her boss, gets her four man team in wherever the fuck, and starts tracing the cell phone of the courier in an effort to find him. After some actual field work, including a great moment where one member of the team converses with gun-toting locals in the native language to get them to leave the team alone, they trace the phone to a car and the car to the compound. Shortly thereafter, our protagonist is pulling out of her driveway when some swarthy men open fire. It takes her a good 5-10 seconds to put it in reverse and close the security gate. As Bill Hicks once said, “Step on the fucking gas!”
Back in Washington, she writes the number of days without action on the compound on her boss’s window every morning, thus cataloging the longest period in recorded history. After much pussyfooting around, they finally agree to the famous raid. Of course, our protagonist doesn’t want the raid. She just wants to drop a bomb on the compound. She says that the men on the SEAL team just come in with “their dicks” and that this upsets her.
Because, as she said earlier, she’s “not that girl who fucks“.
(Note: I listened to this part again and I think she’s saying something other than “dicks”. I’m too lazy to change it, and I like thinking about her saying the word “dicks”).
There was a nice nod to Planet Terror when one gentleman states that he was on a similar operation in 2007 (the year Grindhouse was released). In that film, Bruce Willis’ character had given Bin Laden the old “two in the chest, one in the head” routine. I guess that was a fake Bin Laden, though.
This is a film that does not ask the tough questions. For instance, when Obama and friends were in the situation room during the infamous raid, did Biden have an erection? I don’t necessarily mean a full mast, raging hard-on, but maybe a partial one. I think he did. The film never addresses this. At this point, however, the audience is used to such things. This is a film of the moment about our protagonist and her quest. Her singular focus leads us to the finale.
So, finally: the raid. Everyone gets shot a few more times once they’re on the ground, just to make sure they’re dead. One woman is shot as she reaches towards her dying husband’s gun. Various women and children are left in the aftermath, with nothing but a destroyed helicopter to remember the Americans by. Bin Laden is killed after falling for the old “calling out Osama’s name” trick. Hard drives are seized, the premises are vacated before the Pakistanis arrive, and our extrajudicial authority is successfully exercised.
None of this matters to our protagonist. Uninterested in the “gold mine” of intelligence obtained, she walks to the body bag for visual identification. Her fingers upon the zipper of destiny, the bag reveals that fabled snipe, captured at last. Her menstruation ceasing, she finds herself at peace. If not for the presence of her colleagues, she may well have removed her used tampon and placed it in Bin Laden’s mouth after smearing it across his face. But, as she will never be able to have his head mounted on her wall, she must content herself with the fact that she solved the puzzle that no one else could solve.
On the plane afterward, she finds herself overcome with emotions, and they begin to gently penetrate her tough veneer. Her loins moisten slightly; her sexual reawakening is at hand. She can be “that girl who fucks” once more. She is alone on this flight, able to go wherever she wants, and has attained her destiny.
Then Osama Bin Laden was dumped in the ocean, or something. I don’t know. It wasn’t in the film, so I guess that part didn’t actually happen.