Kathryn Bigelow offers an inadequate, tortured response to the criticism about torture in her film Zero Dark Thirty.
Critics have argued that the film misleads by suggesting torture was instrumental in catching Osama bin Laden. This criticism does not interfere with her First Amendment right to "create works of art and speak their conscience without government interference or harassment" - especially when the producers of the film purport to tell "story of history's greatest manhunt for the world's most dangerous man."
She argues that torture was used in the early years, and it's fine for the film to include these scenes. Most critics have not denied her the right to that depiction, and I've heard no criticism specifically accusing her of endorsing torture. Yet the film is incomplete as long as it does not reveal, even emphasize, the methods most instrumental in bin Laden's capture. She argues that "confusing depiction with endorsement is the first step toward chilling any American artist's a light on dark deeds," and yet she goes too far. The critics did not ask for her to ignore or deny torture as she alludes toward the end of the essay. All most critics have done is point to a major hole in her film and suggest that the story would have been immensely improved had she relayed the true consequences of torture.
Now as a former writing instructor, let me point to the phrases that signal her lack of confidence in this argument.
After labeling the criticism as "brouhaha," she writes "I'm not sure I have anything new to add, but I can try to be concise and clear." Beware of any writer who must assert that he or she is being "clear," an attempt to deny the reader the ultimate judgment.
Bigelow is right on one point when she questions "if some of the sentiments alternately expressed about the film might be more appropriately directed at those who instituted and ordered these U.S. policies, as opposed to a motion picture that brings the story to the screen." Unfortunately, the film's depiction of bin Laden's capture might suggest policies allowing torture have value.
Bigelow tries to distract her readers with emotional references to the victims of the 9/11 attacks and the bravery of the military in providing security. Yet in the end, she admits that torture "was the key to finding bin Laden." And by suggesting that he was defeated by "ordinary Americans" she reminds us that torture was used on ordinary Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and others whose names we may never know.
Bigelow squirms under the criticism that Zero Dark Thirty missed the opportunity to be a great film and story, relaying truth about the human condition.
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