“Maya anchors and propels the film. With a woman at the center of this story, it’s hard not to question gender. Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t overtly discuss gender politics, as Bigelow points out. Yet it reveals gender dynamics in subtle and important ways.
Early on, a colleague calls her a “killer,” a moniker that doesn’t quite seem to fit her composed demeanor and soft-spoken voice. Or is that supposed to challenge our stereotypical gender assumptions? But it certainly fits as the film progresses.
I’m honestly not entirely sure if Zero Dark Thirty is a feminist film. But with its subtle gender commentary, female friendship, and female protagonist who’s defined by her actions rather than her appearance or her relationships, it’s hard for me to say it’s not.
Zero Dark Thirty also portrays characters who repeatedly say that they can’t do their job without torture — or as they put it “enhanced interrogation techniques” — even after finding leads without torture and even after torture fails to stop terrorist attacks, which undercuts the message that torture is ineffective and reprehensible. It frames torture more as a Machiavellian means to an end: it’s not pleasant but still kinda necessary. But maybe that’s the point — to showcase the traditional thinking of the CIA in how to obtain intelligence, even when everything points in the opposite direction. While it certainly doesn’t condone torture, sadly Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t outright condemn human rights atrocities either.”
One doesn’t need to be a moralist, or naive about the urgencies of fighting terrorist attacks, to think that torturing a human being is in itself something so profoundly shattering that to depict it neutrally – ie to neutralise this shattering dimension – is already a kind of endorsement.
Imagine a documentary that depicted the Holocaust in a cool, disinterested way as a big industrial-logistic operation, focusing on the technical problems involved (transport, disposal of the bodies, preventing panic among the prisoners to be gassed). Such a film would either embody a deeply immoral fascination with its topic, or it would count on the obscene neutrality of its style to engender dismay and horror in spectators. Where is Bigelow here?
-Slavoj Zizek, "Zero Dark Thirty: Hollywood’s Gift To American Power"
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