The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Archive for the ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Category

Why Zero Dark Thirty is a big deal to me

with 25 comments

zero-dark-thirty-jessica-chastain
Sweden is going to host the Eurovision Song Contest this year and a few days ago they announced who was going to host this event, which will be broadcasted over all of Europe. When it turned out that it was a talented female comedian, the immediate response from one of the leading critics in Sweden was to express his concerns He argued that since she had become a mother a few months ago, she was probably unfit for the job. According to the critic she ran the risk to be distracted, having other priorities and her thoughts elsewhere during the show.

The critic was soon called out in social media in Sweden for his outdated views and it was pointed out that there have been several men leading similar events over the years with a baby at home and that this was never considered a problem. But I think it says something about the power that stereotypes and prejudices have over us. As a woman you’re supposed to put your baby above your career.

This is supposed to be a post about Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s movie about the hunt that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. So why am I telling this story? Well, I think it serves as an illustration of how far we still have to go – even in a country like Sweden, which is considered to have come a long way in terms of equality. Women are still sorted into the same old boxes. Are you a mother, a sex goddess or a helpless victim in need of protection? Make your choice! Just don’t come and tell us that you’re a professional.

A big deal
To me Jessica Chastain’s portray of Maya, the agent who leads the hunt, is a very big deal, one of the things that makes this film stand out.
“Do you realize what we just watched?” I asked my husband as we left the theatre.

“We saw a movie with a woman in the leading role, who’s portrayed as someone who is smart, tough and able to lead other people. She wasn’t a sex object, she wasn’t looking for someone to take care of her or someone to hook up with and she wasn’t using her attractiveness to get what she wanted. She was allowed to do her own thing, regardless of her sex. How extraordinary! How refreshing!”

“Uplifting” isn’t the first word I’d use to describe Zero Dark Thirty, but from a gender perspective I think it is. It’s got Maya, but also several other female agents, who are portrayed as just as professional and focused on the task as she is. And it’s got Kathryn Bigelow, who once again stands out as a big, shiny exclamation mark in the world of action movies, which until now has been so completely dominated by men. Change takes time, but I’m positive that the very fact that she exists and is so successful will serve as a source of inspiration for many upcoming young female directors. Her work speaks for itself.

Endorsing torture?
I wanted to bring up the gender aspect of Zero Dark Thirty, partly because the discussion about the torture scenes was starting to get at me. But I’ll say a few words about that too, to let you know where I stand.

With all respect for that people are entitled to their own opinions, I find the idea that this film in any way justifies or glorifies torture quite ridiculous. What it does is to show what war means, in all its ugliness, including some aspects that we usually don’t talk about, things that happened despite the denial from the authorities. Whether the use of those methods were justified or not is left to the viewer to decide Zero Dark Thirty raises a lot of questions, but answers none. And that’s what makes it so far superior to most other war movies.

In the hands of a different director, this film could have been forgettable or – more likely – annoying. Imagine what it would have been like if Steven Spielberg had directed it!

Now don’t take me wrong, I actually like most of his work, including War Horse from last year, which pretty much every one else hated. But I don’t think Zero Dark Thirty would have been anywhere near as good with him as a director. I can see the additional ten minutes in front of me, where Maya returns to US, gets decorated by the president, unites with her family, visits a grave of some friend who died, holding hands with a newly found love, while the schmaltzy John Williams score is playing in the background. No thanks.

[mild spoiler warning] As it is now, the film leaves you exactly where a film on this topic should leave you: hanging, lingering in the thoughts in the events we’ve just seen.

What now? Has anything really changed with Osama bin Laden dead? Can we ever break the chain of revenge actions? Where do we go from here?

Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, US 2012) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

February 5, 2013 at 1:00 am

Posted in Zero Dark Thirty