ugly americans, cont’d

Andrew Sullivan is a must read on “Zero Dark Thirty.”  He sees an obvious fact about the movie that I missed because I was paying attention to its attitude:

It sure did show that what was done by Americans was torture. If you’d had a figure in a World War II movie in Nazi uniform doing the same things CIA operatives are shown doing, you wouldn’t hesitate to call it such. The first torture scene is basically a crucifixion. And you would reflexively flinch and see the abuse as the despicable antithesis of everything we stand for in Western civilization.

Exactly, and since any competent movie, let alone a very well made one like “Zero Dark Thirty,” is always much more ‘show’ than it is ‘tell,’ it’s the torture that will stay with people. The thing I disapproved of most was the way the movie suggests the whole, long sad story of our torturing prisoners is a struggle for our sensitive American souls, something that we need to be really, really ambivalent about. Sullivan has no patience for such ambivalence:

Difficult? Using overwhelming force to beat suspects to a pulp, drown them to near death scores of times, cram them into boxes, hang them from stress positions used by the Communist Chinese, freeze them to near-death: these things are not difficult. Real interrogation and investigative work is difficult – and it’s what caught and killed bin Laden (which the movie also shows, thank God). Not resorting to torture as a first option after an act of unimaginable terror is difficult.

That’s the thing I think I react to most strongly when I think about “Zero Dark Thirty.” As a country, we were grievously wounded by 9/11, but I still would not have expected this. Torture strikes me as the reaction of people who are weak, who are afraid, and who have lost their way. There is a maddening lack of competence portrayed in the torture scenes; watching them, you can’t help but wonder, ‘Is this the very best we could do? Is this all we had left?’ Ali Soufan’s  book gave me faith in our ability to do things right. Watching “Zero Dark Thirty” takes it away.


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