There’s something very heartbreaking about not knowing what you want, worse is, perhaps knowing what you want but all ways leading to is murky, even circuitous. In that case, it’s akin to entering a maze, it’s not only easy to lose your way out, but also not knowing where you came from, but most importantly, you don’t know when to stop. You also don’t know whether you are making a right decision and progressing, or making a wrong choice, and regressing. It’s also not about being right or wrong, at least not in a conventional sense, because you know you are trying to obliterate something that’s categorically evil, and therefore, after a certain point of time, the hunt ceases to be about him, it’s just about you. Maya is spearheading one such hunt: to nab the unequivocal diabolical perpetrator of the worst attack in human history – Osama Bin Laden.
The year’s 2003, and Maya and her colleagues are interrogating a suspect in the 9/11 case, someone who could provide them clues to Osama Bin Laden. But the suspect is not willing to give in: he refuses to divulge any details, willing to even begrudgingly tolerate physical assaults, and emotional humiliation. The inhuman assaults by CIA officials drive a very simple, even a well-known point home: to varying degrees, we are all evil, we are all animals, whose insanity is hidden under a veneer that is everyday world. But Bigelow doesn’t seem interested in exploring it, maybe because of the ubiquitous nature of the question, or because it has already been discussed, and dissected a number of times before, thus making the whole exercise redundant. Here, she’s like that school kid who has returned from an unmatched adventurous trip, and is hence solely concentrated on re-telling that adventure, because according to her, somehow the implications of the adventure pales in front of the adventure itself, which answers its own questions.
At the time of the aforementioned interrogation, Maya is still relatively new to this world. You could see her lowering her gaze when the suspect is tortured in a gruesome manner, she could even be implying that she’s not a party to CIA’s inhumanity. And it’s not difficult to guess that in due course of time, the transition will take place, that she will transform from being squirmed by violence to making people squirm, the source of torture being no one but her, that seven years later, she will introduce herself to the CIA chief as ‘the motherfucker who found this place (Osama’s hide out)’. Thus, Zero Dark Thirty is not just about the greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man, but is also in its own a queer coming-of-age story.
There are some scenes that wonderfully delineate the mundaneness of life, even in midst of all the violent melee; in an especially designed stealth helicopter, moments before entering Bin Laden’s house, one of the soldiers in the group is listening to a song on his headphone, the other soldier inquires which band is he listening to, and the listener replies nonchalantly. Bigelow plucks quite a telling aspect of their life: here they are, minutes before landing on the premises of the world’s most wanted man, and about to conduct a raid of the magnitude that has been unheard of, and will probably not be replicated, but even that is somehow not enough to overshadow their life’s mundaneness, that in jobs like these, you need to switch yourself on and off, otherwise insanity will gobble you up.
Simplistically speaking, the battle for making a good movie hinges on two things primarily: a good subject, and its deft execution. Bigelow had won a large chunk of the battle even before she began filming the movie. Because not only the subject of the movie is unanimously intriguing, and a field where very few narratives exist, but also because the movie’s climax unites almost every member of the audience, irrespective of their cultural identity. And this has nothing to do with Bigelow’s directorial chops, but due to the magnitude of terror one man was responsible for. Very few movies set out with such a massive advantage, very few movies, just because of their subject matter, are destined to be liked by the majority.
However, Bigelow could have still thrown it away, but to her and Mark Boal (screenplay writer) credit, the movie boasts of some ingenious writing, because a movie that sprawls 9 years, and encompasses a long list of similar interrogation, it’s not only remarkable how focused the movie is, but also equally taut.
The making of this movie could acquire an identity of its own; it has all the ingredients one normally expects from a gripping drama, the way crew members would have accessed confidential reports, the voluminous research required for the movie which could have been frustrating for the film-maker and her team — sifting through mountain of papers, culling insignificant from significant — and for them could have been to an abated extent, similar to the movie’s protagonist’s delusions.
There’s no disputing the enormity and significance of the movie’s subject, and Bigelow’s audacity to bring its nuances to screen, but it should also be seen what Bigelow achieves or tries to achieve beyond the frame. If you step back and just let the movie be, it’s just a linear re-telling of events, linear not only in its chronology, but more importantly, in its intent. There’s nothing wrong in being obsessed with just telling a story, but then don’t fish for the epithet ‘great’.