If you lie to me, I will hurt you


I have real difficulty seeing what the reason for the furore around the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow’s latest movie. Martin Sheen has come out in opposition to it. Naomi Woolf had come out in the Guardian calling Bigelow the latest Leni Riefenstahl, and the torture scenes themselves are rather tame in real terms compared to what really went on. There is no justification for torture expressed in this film. On the other hand there is no pornographic lingering on the inhuman brutality meted out to the prisoners. Over and over again the torture victims are told that if they lie to their torturers, their torturers will hurt them, a horrifying thought, and even more horrifying to endure. Rest assured also this is not a film that will leave you riveted to your seat in unspeakable horror – its not a horror movie. It is clever,  extremely entertaining, well paced, and the writing is top notch. The acting too, is simply wonderful. Bigelow deserves a best director Oscar, and it is a big snub she didn’t get it. What is depicted in the movie is what the CIA was ordered to do, that being to get the information by any means necessary. When watching the movie itself we only get snippets of the unspeakable physical and psychological horror endured by the prisoners, before they were disappeared or executed or in some cases returned to their families to tell stories about how they were tortured by persons unknown in locations unknown for time periods unknown with no evidence whatever to support their claims. It’s not without significance that the various conventions, Geneva or otherwise, expressly forbid torture. Aside from the enormous stupidity of using torture, an unreliable means of getting hard evidence, the information one does get is legally useless and therefore has what one might call a questionable actionable status to it. One needs to amass a sheaf of corroborations before it emerges into the light of any degree of credibility. Torture is about power. It’s about the torturer, in this case – the state, telling its enemy- in this case the prisoners, we have absolute power. You will give us everything, the contents of your mind, your emotions, and when you have given us everything, then we will allow you to die, maybe. Torture is an act of terrorism. In a war on terrorism this surely is the greatest of ironies. Torture creates a hatred that will last from one generation to the next. It is never forgotten and never forgiven. Bigelow does not come down in favour of torture. To think that from this film is to hugely underestimate an enormously skilled and intelligent artist who is telling a story, not recreating history, or trying to make a kind of propaganda movie. Basically it is a revenge story, and the ruthlessness by which revenge is exacted in the mafia style hit on the Bin Laden compound at the end is truly appalling. Before you make up your own mind, go see it. Bigelow’s interest in powers structures and the military goes a long way back. Let’s hope her next movie is even better than this one.

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