Monday, December 10, 2012

F--K You, Zero Dark 30: F--k You, F--k Yu, F--k U

I am a supporter of Kathryn Bigelow. Anyone can tell you that women are vastly in the minority among major US film directors. I'm trying to think of some more, and I only come up with Nora Ephron, really. Unimpressive, right? Bigelow broke new ground in 2009, when she became the first woman to get a Best Director Oscar, as well as the first woman to get a DGA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film.

By all reports, The Hurt Locker
(the film for which she won) is an amazing movie, and I'm sorry I haven't seen it yet. But that's not to say that I've liked all her work: 
  • Strange Days was a complete clusterf--k of poorly-advised ideas (um, rape plays a huge part in that movie - including futuristic scifi innovations on rape). 
  • Near Dark was a fantastic movie, and one of the best vampire pix ever, really, while 
  • K-19: The Widowmaker bored me to tears, but I saw it ages ago and don't recall it well. 
  • Point Break may not be a deep and wonderful movie, but it's a fun action macho-fest, and it's actually quite cool that a woman made it.
So why am I deeply upset about Zero Dark Thirty? Its quality seems high, given the overwhelming-positive critical response to this pic that will get a limited release on December 19th, then a wide release in mid-January 2012. The quickest way to explain my issues today is to simply state this: all proceeds should go to fund better medical and psychiatric treatment for every soldier deployed to Afghanistan, as the hunt for that loser is pretty much the cause of all this. Today, that's my end-point here...

This is so gratifying, I think it almost counts as masturbation.

Behind-the-scenes facts support my strong reaction: ZDL was originally a movie about the failed hunt to find a terrorist mastermind known as "Osama something-or-the-other." When actual events intervened and the real OBL was located and killed, the story was changed - from the failed search to the successful attack on that murdering zealot's Pakistani compound. So my problem is that this movie ignores all of the Americans, British, and other forces that have been hurt so badly in Afghanistan.

So many nice cars in the frame, it's a Bay film!

Many, many people have died or been permanently injured, physically and/or mentally, because they are members of various armed forces that were deployed to Afghanistan. There are many problems in that nation, and it contributes to worldwide misery - in the form of heroin and money that terrorists make off the sale of same - on a scale so vast that any nation has some interest in destroying those crops and giving the people who grow it a new way to earn money. That Osama guy is the reason those soldiers were deployed.

Nor is it stupid or wrong for these soldiers to be there, but the toll it has had is massive. And I can't ignore one big fact: a lot of modern media is centered on the "porn" version of various things. You get women's-lifestyle-porn in the form of two Sex and the City movies, you get violence-porn in the form of absurdist gun-fests like Gamer (the hero shoots a drawer open?) and the two Crank films, and you get torture-porn in the form both Hostel pix and Turistas and the Saw sequels and the like. Also: everything by Zack Snyder is porn.
Most everybody who isn't a neo-Nazi wants to punch Hitler in the face; I doubt few people are apathetic on that topic. Most everybody wants to be intimate with the most attractive person that they've ever seen - or to win the biggest award in whatever hobby or interest they have, and/or to achieve the absolute pinnacle of however they personally define the word "success." And tons and tons of people wanted to kill OBL with their own hands.

It therefore seems thoughtless and f--ked up and manipulative to get a movie - about 20 months after the real-life event - dedicated to the mission to kill the world's most-hunted terrorist. I have seen, on the street and in the news, people who walk around with shiny cyborg parts because they were ordered to help restore peace to a nation plagued by brutal combat since the 1979 Soviet invasion; I doubt any of them prefer their new appendages over the ones they lost. And I doubt most of them had much say in the orders they received or how they were carried out. And that's aside from the civilian casualties...

So how can any American studio or filmmaker just ignore such suffering and loss, all to give everyone the "strangle-Hitler-porn" that we all desire? Actually, maybe it's worse than that: maybe it's "patriot porn." In the face of such real tragedy, that is abhorrent in a very similar way to my documented hatred of films about September 11th, 2001. It all feels hollow and s---ty.

It might not be Ms. Bigelow's fault, entirely; many people have lauded The Hurt Locker specifically for putting a realistic (and high-quality) face on the trauma experienced by so many people deployed to Iraq. This doesn't mean that Kathryn is now required to do the same for the conflict in Afghanistan, either. But it does mean that she should be sensitive to the shallow, overtly-crowd-pandering concept at the center of the revised script she worked on. 

The death of a notorious vile loser like OBL is hardly the most important story to be told of the fallout of those September 2011 attacks. The real story is of the awful fates of both natives and foreigners in the Middle East and Western Asia. The idea that a studio will profit from this kill-real-evil-folks-porn is, to me, nauseating.

Actually, the only way I won't be vomitously-disgusted by the inevitable big box office figures for Zero Dark Thirty is if Annapurna Pictures and Columbia Pictures donate all their profits to make sure that any Afghanistan-deployed soldier - American or not - receives the support, care, and social reintegration that they so deeply deserve. Honestly - and not as a lawyer or a film-blogger, but as a person -  anything less feels a bit close to letting famous murderers profit off of the crime memoirs they write in jail. Those soldiers wouldn't be there, and the innocent civilians of various nations wouldn't have been hurt, if not for the hunt for a... I can't even come up with a curse that's sufficient...

This (and that post about Sept. 11th films) is as close as I think I'll ever come to writing a "personal politics" piece. It is true I haven't even seen ZDT. And some people may disagree over Kathryn Bigelow's intentions - they may be right - but this seems like a big no-brainer to me. Any difference of opinion is welcome...


  1. What exactly is supposed to be out of bounds about this? I hadn't seen the trailers for Zero Dark Thirty, and based on your description I'd expected them to be end of Death Proof, just with Kurt Russell as OBL, and a thirty-minute montage of the people who took to the streets to celebrate when President Obama announced that the deed was done. (Not an activity I approve of by the way--smells too much of gloating, and it feels wrong to celebrate the death of any person, even an evil, murderous son of a bitch--but one I can't quite bring myself to condemn, either.) Maybe all set to the triumphant "mission accomplished" music from the end of Top Gun.

    It's not. It's a fairly standard political thriller trailer, with the slight twist that we all know how this story ends. I didn't see anything insanely jingoistic, or sensational, or exploitative, much less pornographic or manipulative.

    You've posted four minutes of trailer from a movie that's more than two and a half hours long. All I know for certain, from those trailers, is that Jessica Chastain and Coach from Friday Night Lights are in that movie. We don't know what this movie ignores or doesn't ignore. We don't know what, if anything, it glorifies. Trailers are, almost by definition, bits of movie taken out of context, and when it comes to the accusations you're slinging here, context is everything.

    Without context, all that's left of your complaint is that it's too soon. But who is it too soon for? For the friends and loved ones of OBL, who might be hurt by seeing a dramatization of people hunting their dearly departed friend and leader? I worry as much about their feelings as they worry about the feelings of all the families of the people OBL helped kill.

    It's entirely possible that Zero Dark Thirty will suck. Rewriting a story on the fly to catch up to current events is a dangerous game, and there are a million reasons that it might not work. It's even conceivable that the movie might be a patriotic hagiography that glorifies war and torture and everything else that America did between September 2001 and May 2011--although that idea seems to go against everything Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have done in their careers to this point, I've got to admit it's possible.

    However, as people who love film, I think we need to give this film the chance to suck, or not suck, rather than prejudging it based on a trailer that's likely outside the director's control or approval. That's a no-brainer.

    1. Turns out there are other problems with the movie as well: ZDT opens with a shot of September 11th (I linked above to my article on why I'll never watch a Sept. 11th movie) and then transitions to a torture scene, waterboarding and all. These harsh acts are said to be critical to finding OBL - however, torture played no part in getting to him!

      and this article as well, although I despise the way the writer groups all of us Americans together:

  2. You used an awful lot of words to express possible flaws that I already acknowledged in my post dude.

    I can afford to prejudge, as I do with every Rob Schneider work that comes out. I don't do it badly or without some thought, and my main focus is that this pic sounds like a 2 hour "money shot," which is wrong considering all the real life people injured; you seem to have completely ignored that "little" aspect of my post - as that's what's left of my complaint. In fact, it was the whole inspiration for it.

    There's no reason for this picture to exist, and there's no reason Bigelow could've still written about the failed hunt for that guy. This is in poor taste - it would make more sense to me if MTV Productions were behind this pic.

    1. in that last para, a typo: "couldn't have" is what I meant

  3. Every war movie bring attention to the sacrifice soldiers make. I don't see how this one will be any different.

    That's not to say there aren't differences between this movie and others. A few come to mind that really focused on the soldier's perspective, like Saving Private Ryan, Letters from Iwo Jima, Hamburger Hill, or Full Metal Jacket. Meanwhile, ZDT appears to be more about the massive, frustrating hunt for you know who.

    But the key difference, I think, is that ZDT is about a war that's still happening, which makes the timing a little insensitive. Does it oblige the filmmakers to accomplish something above and beyond any other war movie, to make a statement on current events portrayed in the movie? I'm not sure. I don't think so... Doesn't seem like the right venue to get "preachy".

    As far as 9/11 movies go, I'm not really a fan of them either, but one in particular has stayed with me... HBO's the Hamburg Cell. The final sequence still gives me chills.

    1. Thanks, man! Everything you say is true. I agree that making a "message" picture about these ongoing events is inappropriate.

      In my case, I have a particular feeling that all of the Afghanistan conflict will be ignored, and that the picture will focus exclusively on the intel-gathering and the actual attack mission. I don't know that this movie will have any other topic or theme than killing evil people.

      I haven't seen the hamburg cell, but I'll do a little reading up on it and decide if it should be an exception...

  4. It's just too soon.

    We're not even out of Afghanistan, we're barely out of Iraq, and already people are sensationalizing it? Turning it into porn for the 99% of us that will never EVER understand what it means to be in the armed forces? No. That is wrong. Respect the soldiers. Respect the Veterans. What they did is not something we should be "entertained" by. There are too many struggling to cope with the events that have forever changed their lives. So, for now, it's too soon.

    But then if not now, when? The list of war movies/series based on actual events is as long as any other movie genre. "Tora! Tora! Tora!"? "We Were Soldiers"? "Gettysburg"? "Hamburger Hill"? "Band of Brothers"? So let's not discriminate as to which events we get to profit from. Besides, some of my favorite movies are black peopl- I MEAN....

    At some point (and apparently there are those that think that point has already passed us by) we should be prepared to be entertained by these events. I think it's perfectly acceptable to say it's not the right time. (I happen to agree with you.) I hope when that time does arrive, you will sit down and give this movie a proper screening.

    But then I'm not one to talk about such things, because I still refuse to watch the Spider-Man movies, so....


    - Pete

    1. Thank you so much, Pete! I agree that it's too soon- actually, I could see the benefit of having a movie about Afghanistan, and having it come out now. But I revile the idea of a "money shot" movie that I really strongly expect will ignore all those "other" soldiers who are dead/wounded in order to focus on the heroic Navy men who killed OBL. All of our troops deserve respect and attention for their service, not just the few that killed Osama...

      Even ignoring all the other soldiers, those Seals put their asses on the line. I don't deserve to get the vicarious thrill of putting foot to ass for my country, while also ignoring all the suffering of those Navy Seals' comrades-in-arms. Actually, one of that team died saving an American doctor yesterday.

  5. Since when did America get so queer for torture?

    It used to be that we were the good guys - we wouldn't torture people, no matter what.

    Now America will torture people *just in case* there is information. And torture is in fact an ineffective way to really get information - because people will say anything to stop being tortured, and honest people who really know nothing will make things up to make it stop.

    It's sad, and it's bad, and it's wrong.

    Overall, America has become more and more military-minded as time goes on. At least part of this is because of the Pentagon's subsidization of films that show the military in a good light.

    1. I was definitely hateful of the effort to normalize severe torture (genital stuff, waterboarding) in the early 00's. Everyone wanted to make every detainee sound like a Season 2, 3, and 4 villain on the Fox's 24. A lot of people who have run our government and/or our military have horrible priorities and make terrible decisions. In particular, I'm ashamed at how often the US supported murderers and rapists because they claimed to be anti-Communist. There has been a long history of screwing up in that regard...

      As this nation has grown more polarized - where people aren't willing to "meet in the middle," but demand they get their way absolutely, a lot of politicians have taken advantage of the great many people in this country who are angry, who actually *hope* to use their 2nd Amendment right and a self-defense to murder claim.

      Hopefully, we will all find better, smarter, more peaceful ways to spread peace, improve the quality of life for all, and deal with everyone who is committed to enacting violence.

    2. > As this nation has grown more polarized - where people aren't willing to "meet in the middle," but demand they get their way absolutely,

      "Everyone's to blame".

      But it's just not so. One side has been completely unwilling to compromise while the other side has been so willing to "meet in the middle" that the middle is now far to the right of where the right started out.

      Basically, this country has been hijacked by a comparatively small number of people. We can't possibly win by trying to "meet in the middle" with them - that strategy has failed time and again for decades. But they have the ability to completely gum up the works.

      So how *do* we effect change? I have no idea. I said for years that America wasn't going to change until bodies littered the streets. Well, bodies littered the streets twice in one Administration, and America didn't change its ways at all. I am at my wit's end.

      Next time review some cheerful movie with bunny rabbits in it, please. :-D

    3. Haha, I think the next review is going up on another site this week, and it's a documentary on this annual event that's basically Mormon Spring Break. All these 20-30 y/o Mormons converge on a beach in NC and try to find their life mate. I don't know if you'd find that cheerful =)

      I don't think everybody's to blame - it's definitely one side that sticks to their guns, and is sore over every lost social battle since the 1960's. The other side shouldn't let themselves become equally radicalized, lest this nation is totally screwed.

      If I learn of any way to fix this mess, I promise I'll share...

  6. I was going to write a comment, but I really don't have anything to add. So instead I will write this comment to serve the "I read this" function. So now you know: I read this. :-)

    (For the record, I'm looking forward to the movie. Sorry!)

    1. Hey, I'm appreciative of all my readers, especially you, dude.

      And it's no sweat - I don't require other folks to be bothered by the same things as me, or in the same way. I know my lawyer/writer-brain operates differently than most others.

      And honestly, it's a lot like Superbad - I took a date to it and we both laughed our asses off; Then I heard Mark Kermode's review later, and realized I had watched one kid who was planning a date-rape and brought his nice-guy friend along. It was a totally different take, and a fair one - it just didn't hit me that way because me and my gf were having such a fun time and never noticed... Both views were fair, and such is life.


Chime in!