Zero Dark Thirty

Jane Mayer Lowers the Boom on Bigelow

An un-ignorable criticism of Zero Dark Thirty from a leading journalist on torture.

Since a lot of you don't seem to want to take it from me, take it from The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, quite possibly America's preemiment journalistic chronicler of the torture debate in the Bush years. She saw Zero Dark Thirty and came away quite unimpressed.

Mayer argues that the film's animating question--whether tortured "works"--is itself completely amoral. The question isn't whether torture works. It is whether torture is right or wrong. Mayer:

In reality, the C.I.A.’s program of calibrated cruelty was deemed so illegal, and so immoral, that the director of the F.B.I. withdrew his personnel rather than have them collaborate with it, and the top lawyer at the Pentagon laid his career on the line in an effort to stop a version of the program from spreading to the armed forces. The C.I.A.’s actions convulsed the national-security community, leading to a crisis of conscience inside the top ranks of the U.S. government. The debate echoed the moral seriousness of the political dilemma once posed by slavery, a subject that is brilliantly evoked in Steven Spielberg’s new film, “Lincoln”; by contrast, the director of “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow, milks the U.S. torture program for drama while sidestepping the political and ethical debate that it provoked. In her hands, the hunt for bin Laden is essentially a police procedural, devoid of moral context. If she were making a film about slavery in antebellum America, it seems, the story would focus on whether the cotton crops were successful.

Boom. That's the kind of line to which there is no comeback.