ugly americans

“Zero Dark Thirty” is a neat trick of a movie, one which suggests a moral complexity that’s not really there. The actors – from the torturer who is also a nice guy to lead character ‘Maya,’ who ultimately finds Osama bin Laden and is instrumental in the decision to kill him – do their jobs, while the movie itself suggests ambivalence. Did we really need torture to learn what we learned? Did we spend too much time in the wasteland chasing bin Laden? Maya’s tears at the end suggest maybe we did.

However, the point of the movie, I think, is to sell the idea that Americans are struggling with what we did in the wake of 9/11 and that the struggle by itself is all that is necessary. The movie fairly screams, ‘Look how complicated our choices were! Look how there couldn’t be any good guys!’ Yet there were good guys, people on our side who knew torture was wrong from the start, (though maybe not ineffective – the record is cloudy) people who did not struggle with the question of ‘What is the right thing to do?’ Watching “Zero Dark Thirty” yesterday I found myself wondering how it would feel to watch the movie through the eyes of someone from Afghanistan or Pakistan – would they shrug and say ‘It was messy and terrible, yes, but these Americans, they really did the best they could?’ I’m guessing not.


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