• warning: Parameter 1 to theme_field() expected to be a reference, value given in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/42743/domains/mstrmnd.com/html/includes/theme.inc on line 171.
  • recoverable fatal error: Object of class stdClass could not be converted to string in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/42743/domains/mstrmnd.com/html/sites/all/themes/custom/basic/node-blog.tpl.php on line 109.
  • recoverable fatal error: Object of class stdClass could not be converted to string in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/42743/domains/mstrmnd.com/html/sites/all/themes/custom/basic/node-blog.tpl.php on line 109.
  • recoverable fatal error: Object of class stdClass could not be converted to string in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/42743/domains/mstrmnd.com/html/sites/all/themes/custom/basic/node-blog.tpl.php on line 109.
  • recoverable fatal error: Object of class stdClass could not be converted to string in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/42743/domains/mstrmnd.com/html/sites/all/themes/custom/basic/node-blog.tpl.php on line 109.
  • recoverable fatal error: Object of class stdClass could not be converted to string in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/42743/domains/mstrmnd.com/html/sites/all/themes/custom/basic/node-blog.tpl.php on line 109.
  • recoverable fatal error: Object of class stdClass could not be converted to string in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/42743/domains/mstrmnd.com/html/sites/all/themes/custom/basic/node-blog.tpl.php on line 109.
  • recoverable fatal error: Object of class stdClass could not be converted to string in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/42743/domains/mstrmnd.com/html/sites/all/themes/custom/basic/node-blog.tpl.php on line 109.
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3090.1721

 

A foreign entity destroys a mirrored sky-object, The Twin Towers, and attacks a pentagonal building. A war of symbols with terrible human carnage. This film is the psychic reaction of that assault. It's our assemblage of the 'symbol-destroyer's death. ZD30 reveals the U.S. psyche open to self-deceipt in order to engage with history.

Unlike Dragnet, names have been composited to create semi-mythic personas.

 

From a declassified CIA manual. Magicians advise spys how to boost their tradecraft.

We don't get a proper glimpse of international boogeyman Usama Bin Laden (UBL) in the entire two hour, forty seven minute Zero Dark Thirty (ZD30?). We see faces on walls fill out a roster of his underlings, but the big man remains elusive to the narrative. Like a ghost, he blurs by in the final minutes in nightvision, as if we're watching a globalized version of Paranormal Activity. It's the first indication we're not merely in a semi-fictional film but in a technocult's ritualized sacrifice, a kind of U.S. pagan-myth bloodrite divined through electronic means of capture. Guilty of the massacre of thousands, Bin Laden's image is nonetheless hidden from us intimating it's forbidden (is it sacred to their discovery process?). It's one of many quirks that takes the hunting of one man and turns it into a singular event for the culture hunting him. To keep our attention, semiotician, Leni Riefenstahl heiress Katherine Bigelow teases us with screenshots from a SEAL's digital point-and-shoot; he takes one, two, maybe three images of the body and all of them look roughly the same, yet they're one screen away from our screen. The image is illegible.  When UBL hunter Maya (Jessica Chastain) finally stares down at his body, we're only allowed a downwind shot that catches his nostrils and beard. Anyone unfamiliar with the visual history of 9-11 would escape the film with only the barest idea of what UBL looks like. The witholding is measured, and has a pairing. Like UBL, we're denied an opening glimpse of the media's talisman of 2001, the impact/collapse of the Twin Towers. In its place is an audio montage of news, responders and a wrenching back and forth between two women, a 911 dispatcher and someone on the verge of dying in the flames of the upper floors. It's a sly choice in a film about a woman that spends twelve years hunting the ultimate ghost. Both images are carefully left out of the film.

The film's problems extend along all axii. Its limpest moral error is grafting torture into the success of the hunt and it turns the film into a Frankenstein-like story in which the means justify the end. Do the filmmakers realize they've committed a seductive form of deceipt? By linearizing the hunt, by localizing it around one archetype they color it mythic. It's how Law & Order compresses its tales. It's how news media condenses events. It's the just the result of the process of simplifying the story for its telling. It's locked into the strategy both Bigelow and Boal chose to tackle the film with. This is a film without any real hint of ambiguity, designed to take the place of actual history and submerge the U.S.'s ideology with its wartime practices. When are audiences going to laugh off the 'based on actual events' intro as the first illusion of many to come? (Maya means illusion in Hindi).  Mark Boal's presence lends the faint respectability of journalism and the film is structured like a bravura multi-page magazine piece. Alternately inane and sharp titles bridge major scenes like sequences in new journalism (the weakest labels the U.S. embassy in Islamabad after we're shown the embassy's entrance signage). Its mid-range error is its compression of facts with fiction. Hurt Locker suffered much graver dislogic, but Bigelow still rushes to tell a story that any spy warrior would probably laugh at. At the embassy's entrance sits a green Mercedes, and as Maya emerges in her white sedan, gunmen pop out and riddle her car with automatic fire. In which fantasy would a checkpoint become a parking zone? It's like the bomb spotter in Hurt Locker's opening sequence, hiding in plain sight as if he wants to get shot. It's all an outsider's imagination of revolt and insurgency reconditioned for western audiences and it reinforces our sensations of superiority in the dark. Whenever I got around to talking about Bigelow's last film, a Freudian slip reoccured: Hurt Logic.  This same thematic failure happens in Bigelow's mixing and matching torture subjects and rendition sites under the pretense of logical pursuit. Any inquisitive mind can watch a few Frontlines and realize torture became more than just a hunt for data, it was also an element in the triggering invasion, and the invasion then bred its own byproduct of the torture game (see Abu Garaib). We're not in a past era where Hitchcock is making the mistake co-opting Ed Gein as a source for Psycho, he only claimed to be scaring people. Bigelow is claiming the veil of reality and using documentary and news techniques to underline the story to scare us. In the pursuit of the audience's raw nerves she implies the most dangerous outcome is Bin Laden's escape, ignoring the other really scary things hiding in the material. Humans caught in our wake: mistaken identities and innocent bystanders to the CIA's path, even the continual reimaging of the U.S. as a virtual and actual colonizer. She doesn't even play with the chaotic possibilities in gathering data from humans, all men, under duress. Here the regret of torture is shown solely in the tight face of heroine Maya, who squirms only for the film's first few minutes, then vibrates angrily every time a terrorist strike occurs. Her arc becomes just a mechanical ploy to seduce us. The problem lies in the film's 'composite' method. Maya, like her torture subjects, like her fellow agents, are all composites of an extensive cast of hunters and targets. The choice of composite characters is a critical failure, it obscures the moral compass so badly, not a single person remains human enough to question even the final act, sending a team of killers from an occupied country into a soveriegn nation without even a moment's pause. The world appears to be the U.S.'s canvas to paint with blood, as long as we can evade detection long enough to escape. Only the SEALs know their potential fate might be rotting in a Pakistani prison and it's the only sober moment of the entire film.

Its gravest error remains Maya. Training a red-haired, pale skinned white woman (read as Northern European descent) through series of violent purifications while she remains sacred (using the abstentions from social and sexual needs) means the film is no more than amped, adrenalized Riefenstahl. This view into a logically falsified blood-rite is the closest thing to zealotry a 'political' film could allow before becoming pure comedy. Maya is the ultimate mythic warrior dressed up for western consumption. She dons her best suit for her first torture, calls intimacy how she sees it ("fuck"), swears when she hears her high value operative is dead and buried ("fuck"), and clears a room of men who wonder how the Abbotabad compound was discovered ("I'm the motherfucker who found it."). The choice of wording is apt and creepy, the Oedipal expression robs her of her gender and turns her into any one of the men in the room. It shows off Maya's performance mask in a single word. There are no uncomfortable come-ons by men in the film, and her most intimate sit-down is with James Gandolfini's Leon Panetta in the main canteen of the CIA. Probably like Bigelow, this isn't someone who wants to be taken for an equal, she reads everyone as inferior and the film complies by subtly grading every other character's weakness in comparison. She's played as a rare case of female Asperger's and her emotionless tagline haunts the film, she announces her own myth: "I believe I was spared to get Bin Laden." The mystery of fate enters the procedural when Bigelow needs dramatic pause. Only the SEALs show up on her viewmaster history of the events, they're like her dogs, and dogs and collars are shown to infer pecking order. They share a common target with differing levels of 'tradecraft'. She's got their leashes, they've got the triggers and the technology. Like the audience, the bureacracy and government and even her fellow agents are saddled with human frailty she lacks and that's the key issue. She's inhuman. In a film carefully showcasing real-life error, she's pure. Faultless. All the other cast-members are fodder in her plan.

The most disconcerting thing about the film isn't the film. It's the reaction. Reviewers all seem drugged by it. The hyperbolic praise it's been granted is obviously filtered through reviewers' memories of watching and rewatching the entire decade long attack/invasion cycle that's been playing on their widescreen TVs. Bigelow cleverly co-ops TV journalism as a prelude to the grand finale.  Major set-pieces are begun with fictional London buses and fictional Islamabad Marriott dining rooms and seemlessly finished by news footage of London bombings and fiery craters outside the hotel. Over years, cable news set these reviewers up and Bigelow knocked them all down in the screening room. The whole fiction-reality op blinds them to the film's simplistic 'Maya vs. the CIA' fantasy that's been magnetized to the 'kill Bin Laden raid' without any profound emotional crossover between them, and of course, the raid doesn't invite Maya along. Audience members were so taken at my showing that when a SEAL called out "Usama" up the last staircase, they began shouting angry epithets. A reaction similar to The Exorcist's ending. By entering the inner sanctum of the world's most diabolical villain (essentially the first flesh and blood Bond baddie), Bigelow finally gets to graft her fictional composite into our memory of reality. The movies goes component. It's a propagandist's master-stroke, the same way Oliver Stone used Zapruder, or Woody Allen tooled Zelig to make their point. Slipping between near pitch-black and nightvision, the film takes on a 'you are there' style to brilliant effect.  You never know when the fiction ends and the factual begins. The whole film seems to be an aesthetic rehearsal for this nighttime scope killing sequence. The dragged zooms, the jab moves, the off center frames in tight focus suddenly occur without even moonlight to enhance the edges. The murkiness works the edges of the 4K projector's limitations and massages our craving for visual references. Some of the darkened flying shots are the only adventurous moments in the film, and they recall early special effects because they seem so unreal, so impossible.  Maybe it's the first film of a medium that no longer needs 35MM, obviously the digital capture with its abstractions of ASA gives the filmmakers a truly undefined threshold between the theater's reflective screen and the homes backlit one. Bigelow's even clever enough to save the film's only subtitles for this end darkness. It's all an 'improved' version of the reality illusion Hurt Locker delivered. The soundwork is likewise stunning, Bigelow isolates the most discrete noises (like the straps to hold torture subjects) to the sides while their breathing stays centered.  After the big rub-out of UBL, the fiction returns quickly and Maya spends a brief intimate moment with her body-bag. Then she climbs aboard her jet-fueled chariot, a wide-open military cargo C-130 on which she's the only passenger. She's the only one listed on its manifest. And of course, the filmmakers pretend she controls her destiny, the pilot asks her where she wants to go as if she has any real choice in the matter. It isn't a spiritual question he's asking yet they want us to think it is. The coda seems to be a taunt at her ex-husband James Cameron; Maya's sitting in her lonely wall-mounted seat seems to be the flipside of Sully's arrival on Pandora. She has to leave the occupation behind. It makes you realize you've just watched a nearly three hour custody battle over a Best Picture Oscar she already owns.

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