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I watched ZERO DARK THIRTY in a packed cinema on the night it opened. The cinema was full to the seat with people who had sifted through controversial reports of what this film was about…what it championed…what it decried. Nobody in the room was there with any illusions of being surprised; everybody in there knew how it ended.

When the moment of truth arrived, something strange happened: one person in the back of the room started to clap. Four claps, maybe five, but from just one person who seemed stoked to be revisiting one of the most infamous military kills of all time. In seconds though, that person realized they were on their own. The rest of us sat in silence. We were shocked, we were stunned, we were awed, and we were numb. We felt something akin to the emotion you see on Jessica Chastain’s face in the image above. To use a familiar phrase, we felt an overwhelming sense of shock and awe.

That was the power of Kathryn Bigelow’s film: It took a moment where a supreme evil was eliminated, and it removed all sense of glory from it. That’s not an easy thing to do.

Perhaps it’s because to get to this moment at the film’s end, we are forced to witness what we did to arabs from all walks of life. Some were innocent, some were very guilty. But when time came to show them what we were made of, what sort of ideology they were fighting against, we brought to them the very worst we had to offer. Whether it was right, effective, justified, or not didn’t matter. What mattered was that we did it, and to get to this “victory”, we had to remember just how much of ourselves we lost.

This wasn’t something to clap about. This was something that came at great personal cost.

When it comes to the films that mark this decade, it would be disingenuous to ignore the violence that has marked it. It’s a continuation of the violence that has followed us through the entire century, and the violence that may not end any time in the near future. It’s a difficult reality to infuse into our mainstream entertainment, but to ignore it would be dishonest and disrespectful.

So too would be turning it into rah-rah western patriotism to appeal to that one guy in the back. I know that he wasn’t the only one – hell, I’ll bet that there were parts of North America where those like me who were stunned into silence were in the minority. But that’s not this film’s intention. ZERO DARK THIRTY doesn’t want to be played as political rhetoric, or confused with first person shooter video games. It wants to be a document of what we did, how we made it through our darkest hour, and trundled off into the dawn.


Click below for my original review of THE ZERO DARK THIRTY, and feel free to leave comments with your thoughts on this film and its place in the decade so far.


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