Oh – and girl. 'Zero Dark Thirty' – a movie made by a woman (Kathryn Bigelow), produced by a woman (Megan Ellison), distributed by a woman (Amy Pascal, the co-chairman of Sony Pictures), and starring a woman (Jessica Chastain) is really about how an agency of mostly men are dismissive of a woman who is on the right path to finding bin Laden. Yes, guys, this is a movie about how we don't listen to women, how hard it is for them to have their voice heard even in these enlightened times. You could say this is a 21st century chick flick – and it would do you well to see it.
But back to the controversy and the torture. I guess where I part with most of my friends who are upset at this film is that they are allowing the wrong debate to take place. You should NEVER engage in a debate where the other side defines the terms of the debate – namely, in this case, to debate "whether torture works." You should refuse to participate in that discussion because the real question should be, simply, "is torture wrong?" And, after watching the brutal behavior of CIA agents for the first 45 minutes of the film, I can't believe anyone of conscience would conclude anything other than that this is morally NOT right. You will be repulsed by these torture scenes because, make no mistake about it, this has been done in your name and mine and with our tax dollars. We funded this.
If you allow the question to be "did torture work?" then you'll lose because yes, if you torture someone who actually has the information, they will eventually give it to you. The problem is, the other 99 who don't know anything will also tell you anything to get you to stop torturing – but their information is wrong. How do you know which one of the 100 is the man with the goods? You don't.
But let's grant the other side that maybe, occasionally, torture "works". Here's what else will work: castrating pedophiles. Why don't we do that? Probably because we think it's morally wrong. The death penalty sure works. Put a murderer in a gas chamber and I can guarantee you he'll never murder again. But is it right? Do we accomplish the ends we seek by becoming the murderers ourselves? That should be our only question.
After I saw 'Zero Dark Thirty,' a friend asked me, "During the torture scenes, who did you feel empathy for the most – the American torturer or the Arab suspect?" That was easy to answer. "Oh, God, the poor guy being waterboarded. The torturer was a sadist."
"Yes, that's the answer everyone gives me afterward. The movie actually makes you care for the tortured guys who may have, in fact, been part of 9/11. Like rooting for the Germans on the submarine to make it back to port in 'Das Boot,' that's the sign of some great filmmaking when the writer and director are able to get you to empathize with the person you've been told everywhere else to hate."
'Zero Dark Thirty' is a disturbing, fantastically-made movie. It will make you hate torture. And it will make you happy you voted for a man who stopped all that barbarity – and who asked that the people over at Langley, like him, use their brains.
And that's what worked.
P.S. One final thought. I've heard fellow lefties say that even if the filmmakers didn't intend to endorse torture (Bigelow called torture "reprehensible" on Colbert the other night), the average person watching the movie is going to take it the wrong way. I believe it is the responsibility of the filmmaker attempting to communicate something that they do so clearly and skillfully (and you can decide for yourself if Bigelow and Boal did so. For me, they did.). But I never blame the artist for failing to dumb down their work so that the lesser minds among us "get it." Should Springsteen not have named his album 'Born in the USA' because some took it to be as a salute to patriotism (Reagan wanted to use it in his 1984 reelection campaign but Bruce said no)?