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

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Image from Sony Pictures' 'Zero Dark Thirty.'

Image from Sony Pictures' 'Zero Dark Thirty.'

Furthermore, Bigelow and Boal, who also produced the film, took specific precautions to safeguard military secrets, including working with the Pentagon on recreation of the helicopters used in the movie’s raid scenes. They say their communication with the government was minimal but purposeful, as they also didn’t want to sacrifice the story.

“[Department of Defense] didn’t have the screenplay,” Bigelow pointed out. “Had we gone down that road, you know, there might have been a lot more assets available to us. But I think it was a very smart decision on Mark’s part to work off his material, to not have that extra layer imposed on him.”

Beyond CIA leaks, many critics of the film are wont to rebuke the torture scenes as a fabrication, claiming they glorify the use of brutality in U.S. foreign policy. Specifically, Zero Dark Thirty presents an indirect link from the use of torture tactics on al-Qaeda, such as sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, drownings, and beatings, to a revelation that ultimately leads to bin Laden’s seizure. Though later, the focus shifts more towards technological tools as well as the street team used in narrowing in on the lead, it is the consequence of this initial violence that has many incensed.

British film critic Glenn Greenwald wrote in the Guardian, “That this film would depict CIA interrogation programs as crucial in capturing America’s most hated public enemy, and uncritically herald CIA officials as dramatic heroes, is anything but surprising. A large Hollywood studio would never dare make a film about the episode, which is America’s greatest source of collective self-esteem and jingoistic pride, without clinging tightly to patriotic orthodoxies. The events that led to bullets being pumped into Osama bin Laden’s skull and his corpse being dumped into the ocean have taken on sacred status in American lore, and Big Hollywood will inevitably validate rather than challenge that mythology.”

Conservative talk show host and torture “apologist” Joe Scarborough has even used the movie as fuel to his fire that such practices are warranted.

“[Zero Dark Thirty] presents a narrative that is going to make a lot of people in the mainstream media, and the Democratic Party uncomfortable,” he said on his show, Morning Joe, reports Mediaite. “That is the truth that Barack Obama learned the first briefing that he got after he won the election. And that is that the CIA program, whether you find it repugnant or not, actually was effective with KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] and other people, getting actionable intelligence that led to couriers that led, eventually years later, to the killing of Osama Bin Ladin.”

Yet for Bigelow, the film is about holistic efforts in the hunt; the intricacy of the tale; and all the components, good or bad, which have since become ingrained America’s historical thread. There was no other way, she says, but to tell the entire truth.

“I wish it was not part of our history, but it was,” she said. “Our thinking was [that] this is about the people, the men and women on the ground in the workforce who found this house, and therefore found this man, and ultimately not really about him. It’s about them. They humanized that hunt, humanized that journey, and it’s their story.”

Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @courtgarcia