‘Zero Dark Thirty’ filmmakers defend torture scenes, explain government role

Image from Sony Pictures' 'Zero Dark Thirty.'

Image from Sony Pictures' 'Zero Dark Thirty.'

The upcoming feature film Zero Dark Thirty, a fact-based narrative about the search and assassination of Osama bin Laden, has been scrutinized since its inception, and is now on the hot seat for endorsing the use of waterboarding to obtain intelligence information.

Critics of the film, opening in limited release on December 19 and nationwide January 11, initially challenged director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal for obtaining classified documents from the Obama administration, and coercing those involved with the operation to divulge confidential information. These latest claims suggest the filmmakers are subsequently advocating for torture methodology.

Nevertheless, Bigelow and Boal firmly stand by their decisions, commenting that their purpose for the film was to humanize the journey, and that the torture scenes were but one facet of that mission.

“The film was a political chew toy before I even wrote a word,” Boal told theGrio at a press conference. “It’s a gross misrepresentation of the film to suggest that it shows this intelligence operation came out of any single piece of information. I understand those scenes are graphic, and unsparing and unsentimental, but I think what the film does, over the course of two hours, is show the complexity of the debate, and the number of different ways the information came into the CIA.”

Boal points out that the film also depicts how a nonviolent approach with al-Qaeda prisoners was essentially more effective in obtaining key clues, and that the series of terrorists attacks following the use of torture proves it didn’t resolve the issue.

Referencing two CIA agents in the film, he added, “The information that Jessica [Chastain] and Jason [Clarke]’s characters hear about, it occurs over a relatively civilized – with emphasis on relatively – a civilized context of a hummus and tabouli lunch.”

In its entirety, Zero Dark Thirty looks at the intricacy of the United States’ mission to find and kill bin Laden, condensing the ten-year journey to halt his terrorist enterprise into a two and a half hour time frame. The movie begins with a brief audio flashback to September 11, then tracks an undercover CIA agent named Maya (Chastain), recruited out of high school to pursue terrorists, as she works her way through Pakistan gathering clues that eventually lead to bin Laden’s demise.

According to Bigelow, all characters in the movie are based on real people and real accounts, and were uncovered through extensive research done by herself and Boal. Exactly what that research entailed both are unwilling to disclose, however there are those within the government and related watchdog groups who claim the two were privy to information beyond their authority. CNN reports there is speculation Bigelow and Boal attended an event with real-life CIA operatives where they were unauthorized, and that the Obama administration illicitly helped with the film because it would portray the president as “gutsy.” There is also a new investigation within the CIA and Pentagon as to whether the filmmakers were provided with “undue access” to secret information, though officials insist nothing “jeopardized sources or gave away classified information about the operation.”