Zero Dark Thirty, the movie chronicling the development of the mission to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, will be coming out only 19 months after the mission’s success was announced.
Asking whether or not it is too soon for this story to be told is an extremely sensitive and complicated matter. The way the movie handles the issue will have serious implications for the way America and its military are perceived abroad. The iron is too hot. Passions are still inflamed. This was a tragic event, and to turn it into entertainment feels exploitative. It feels too soon.
One of the most obnoxious aspects of our culture is our propensity to sensationalize everything. There are some things that should be kept sacred and not turned into entertainment. Zero Dark Thirty might draw attention to certain part of our military’s that would be better if most people didn’t know about or understand.
The recent book, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden (which came out only four months after the Osama assassination mission) is more guilty of this than the movie will be, as it was a first hand account written by someone who was actually there and it goes into much greater detail. Even the Pentagon took up arms against that book’s release.
Political controversy surrounded Zero Dark Thirty as well, with some opponents charging that the Obama administration offered classified documents to the filmmakers to help them in their filming. President Obama definitely understands the political power of art, but there is no evidence he did anything of the sort. It would be pointless for his administration would risk involvement in any of that ridiculousness.
I worry that the movie in one way or another might fuel people’s resentment of the American military abroad, especially if the movie happens to win Academy Awards. There are many people and many groups residing in the Middle East and elsewhere that are unsympathetic to the American cause.
And while the majority of them are not Al-Qaeda supporters per say, watching Americans relish in the destruction of their enemies in movie theatres might not sit well with them, and will not improve their view of us as a relentless, warlike nation. Even if this is not the angle that the movie takes on the story, it will be so easy to misconstrue.
I don’t see these people’s agitation erupting into violence. This is no Muhmmad movie. What I can see is just a subtle increase in collective resentment. It’s hard to say how it’ll be vented. I hope things do not heat up for soldiers stationed abroad.
I should mention that I also don’t think any of the Afghanistan or Iraq movies should’ve been made. I’m suspicious when directors seek to turn present and serious violence into entertainment. Directors must feel it is compelling. I feel it is desensitizing and manipulative. I feel this way about most war movies. Movies that set out to be anti-war often come off as a glorification of war, justifications, or confirmations of war’s inevitability.
I think it all comes down to intention and effect. Why has Kathryn Bigelow chosen to tell this story right now, so soon? Probably because she’s obsessed with war, and wants to make a thrilling film and win an Oscar. Perhaps she’s thinking more deeply about her influence on culture. Maybe she wants to restore confidence in America’s military, or make an argument that this kind of carefully orchestrated military operation can produce better results and is a better alternative to large scale invasions.
Yet this film will probably not have this same effect on audiences, at home and abroad. I don’t think enough time has passed for people to be able to watch this film in the clear-headed and rational manner it will take to understand these artistic intentions.
Most people that go to see Zero Dark Thirty will feel a sense of victory, or vindication, or pride as they watch our enemy get gunned down. Many will feel sadness, or anger, or fear. There are too many emotions surrounding the event at the moment. The wounds are still open the passions are too hot; very little of the director’s intended edification will be achieved. It will be an emotional experience, not a sobering and rational one, and this, in relation to war movies, is the kind of attitude that only perpetuates tragedy.
I am not excited to see Zero Dark Thirty. I know how its story begins, I know how it ends. I don’t think killing Osama Bin Laden brought more peace into this world, and making a movie about it, surely will not.