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Kathryn Bigelow Talks "Torture" Controversy, Her First "Failed" 'Hunt For Osama Bin Laden' Film & More About 'Zero Dark Thirty'

by Rodrigo Perez
December 27, 2012 4:31 PM
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Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow
Jessica Chastain's Maya character was written as a woman because women played key roles in the real story.
"I think what I found very surprising in Mark's research was that women were very central to this operation. That's what I found exciting," Bigelow stressed. "It's extraordinary that women were pivotal but it was also that those were the facts. That was the hand we were dealt. That was the lens we chose to tell this story. I thought that the honesty of the piece was the most important element. That's what drove me and motivated me. It's also a testament to the power of Jessica that she found the finely nuanced emotions in a character that has to be so precise. It's a testament to her but also to Jason Clarke and to Kyle Chandler. These are characters who have to work with a tremendous amount of precision, as beautifully written in the screenplay, and the emotion they're able to generate within that precision, is amazing.

The production was shot in the thick of things to get a chaotic kind of feeling, but with subterfuge to avoid spectactors.
"We needed that sense of [a] teeming environment where you're looking for a sharp needle in a very large haystack. This kind of human deluge," Bigelow explained. "These marketplaces in India were exquisite. What happens when you pull a camera out is you get 2000 faces looking at the camera and that would have broken the illusion. So what we had to do was set up these diversionary film sets, where we would have an actor who wasn't in a key scene, and they would be doing something like walking through the marketplace 200 feet away, while the shot I needed was 200 feet in the opposite direction. You don't get all day, it only buys you another 30 minutes. But that kind of life and vitality of those environments, you can't recreate. If we could have gone to Pakistan we would have. We were about 2 hours off the border. Between pre-partition and post-partition Pakistan, the architecture is identical."

Zero Dark Thirty Jessica Chastain
Bigelow believes in the reality of her film, but should we?
"As a filmmaker it was very interesting to stay inside the longitudinal and latitudinal guidelines of history," she said. "And the beauty of this piece for me is working within a sense of naturalism and realism and specificity. There was nothing that was done that didn't come from the research. As a filmmaker, that's thrilling."

Personally this writer doesn't really care so much if the film is 100% accurate or not. At the end of the day, it's a movie. And even a documentary is still the distillation of facts told to a filmmaker who's going to present them in the way he or see sees fit. Marketing it as 100% fact is one thing, but a) I'm not sure that's the case exactly and b), it's marketing. The fact of the matter is that "Zero Dark Thirty" is a terrifically tense procedural and a thriller about the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden. Whether everything happened the way it's presented isn't something I personally hang on to so much, because there's a massive gulf between the facts of movies vs. the facts of reality (which themselves are still burdened by perception, POV experience, etc. -- you and I may have been at the same event, but is our perception and experience the same?). I personally don't even mind if the filmmakers are convinced they have the story 100% right and don't. At the end of the day, it's still taking thousands and thousands of ideas and putting them into the framework of a 2.5 hour movie and it's executed extremely well. Your take on it? "Zero Dark Thirty" is in theaters now and doing extremely well in limited release. It opens wide on January 11, 2013.

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  • Jaimee | December 28, 2012 3:08 AMReply

    As one critic put it, which is funny, "the only torture is watching the movie itself." The film makers should just accept the public's response and not have all Bigelow's well placed friends write stunning reviews everywhere for her. She's practically nominated herself for an Oscar.

  • DeuceBigelow0 | December 28, 2012 2:51 AMReply

    Oh my God, the spin!! "Accusations" didn't "fly" about Bigelow And Boal "having special access" to CIA information, they BRAGGED about basing their script "on classified information" in Variety Magazine in 2011. Go read the article. Wake up!! The public is intelligent!

  • RNL | December 27, 2012 8:41 PMReply

    I don't see an anti-torture statement in all her apologetics about "different methodologies".

  • shane | December 27, 2012 6:34 PMReply

    All hunt-for-osama films will always be failures.

  • DrDang | December 27, 2012 5:40 PMReply

    Also, what Tim said.

  • DrDang | December 27, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    I'm anticipating this movie like crazy and I'm hoping to walk away with the same experience and opinion as the writer. However, I would like to add something to the debate. It's a movie, movies are subjective, history is perceived differently etc are good arguments but they are also smart arguments. I think the concern that some of the journalists (and I) have is what the casual moviegoer will walk away with. The fact that this films aspires (and apparently succeeds) to be hyper-realistic only confounds this. Compare this with, say the accuracy debate over The Social Network, which *felt* highly dramatised from the get go; and I think that in this case the pundits may have more of a point.

  • Tim | December 27, 2012 5:17 PMReply

    "Making matters worse are those pundits that have jumped on the bandwagon and dubbed the film 'pro-torture' because those tactics were among those used to assist in the capture and killing of Bin Laden (that kind of logic is pretty hilarious, frankly)."

    It's amazing that after all of the protracted debate about this, this simple fact is still unclear to so many people: those tactics were NOT used to assist in the capture and killing of Bin Laden. THAT'S the reason for the controversy. If you read the letter written by the Senators who objected to the film, and who have actually read the classified reports, this distortion is precisely the reason they are publicly objecting. I've yet to see the film, and so I can't comment on its depiction of torture (from what I've read, calling it "pro-torture" seems overblown), but the only part of this debate I see as being "pretty hilarious" is the part where those defending that depiction as an accurate representation of the historical record don't even understand what that record is.

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