In Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Picture Nominee of 2013 Zero Dark Thirty, the hunt for the international terrorist named Osama Bin Laden extended over a decade past the national crises of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attack. The movie takes place on a number of unidentified American military camps in the Middle East, more specifically in and around Pakistan and Afghanistan9, and within the American CIA division and other terrorist tracking organizations. The main character, Jessica Chastain, playing the investigator and interrogator of the search for Bin Laden, Maya, begins her search for a find a location of Bin Laden’s location and how to verify it. She begins with intelligence beyond what most of her coworkers actually appear to understand but because she is the rookie and because she simply is not a male, she gets little recognition or acceptance at first, but diligently does the work provided to her by superiors while working on her own lead off to the side. Once she gains traction into her lead, her superiors and coworkers begin to buy into her thoughts and, with the exception of the highest authority figures initially, the lead is brought into play and the CIA goes brings their best to take out who only Maya believes is actually Osama Bin Laden. The situation in the movie, with one of the newer employees, Maya, diving off on a lead that is not of big concern to the CIA, being the only one that is on to a significant lead, but is constantly told that she is wrong or not given a second look because of her rankings in the CIA was what created the entire plot. The issue in Zero Dark Thirty was well stated by an authority within the CIA when he conversed with a leader of the search for terrorist by asking “how do you evaluate the risk of not doing something?” Maya had set out enough information and evidence that Osama Bin Laden was inside of the suspected building, but because she was not the one in charge and some could argue that because she was a woman her advice was not taken immediately and delayed until the CIA gave into her persistence on Bin Laden’s location.
Some of the themes that seemed the most apparent to me while watching the movie was that people in higher positions are usually not the smartest of the entire population but someone slightly below them doing all of the work and pushing the operations forward. In this case it was Maya digging deep into evidence that was disregarded by everyone else while her superiors took the credit when she was right, but most often believed that Maya was looking into useless information. Along with the superior situation, another theme that appeared was quite simply the lack of women within the entire movie. There were two primary female characters, and each time they were in the presence of men their seats at the table were in the back and their voice was disregarded initially until deep into the movie. This situation did however add to the plot and character development, which did help to make the viewer become invested into the movie.
When Zero Dark Thirty was released in 2012, it came at the heels of the location and execution of Osama Bin Laden, with American citizens chomping at the bit to learn of his death. The film was nominated for five different Oscar Awards, winning the Best Achievement in Sound Editing, and nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, winning the Best Performance for an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. The Director, Kathryn Bigelow, was coming off of her Best Picture Oscar Award winner The Hurt Locker, another film depicting war in Afghanistan, and looked to continue her prominence in Hollywood. With The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman ever to win the Oscar for Best Director. Not only did she win it, but it came at the expense of her ex-husband James Cameron’s movie Avatar. It is also interesting to note that Zero Dark Thirty won eight awards from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, giving the award for both Best Director and Best Female Director. With the portrayal of the main character it was easily summed up by saying that during the opening scene in the interrogation room when she removes her ski mask and it is revealed that she has a pale, milky innocence and bright blue eyes, thin and somewhat frail looking. When I think of a protagonist, I think of a person with a naturally big stature that makes everyone look up to them, without a hint of fear in their eyes. When Maya reveled her face in the room, it was hard to believe that this natural looking lady was going to be the one that would exert authority over the detainee’s. Once we learn that Maya is fierce and speaks like an authority, we come into contact with another female member of the CIA that begins their relationship fighting against each other because of their dueling positions. There was an instance that foreshadowed the loss of the ability to interrogate detainee’s by the male lead actor, Dan, when he tells Maya that he doesn’t want to be the one with a water bucket or chain in his hand when the program and cut. Surely enough, Obama declares that the United States does not torture people and effectively cuts the entire process from use. The only reason the youth might be into this movie is for the final scene where the Navy SEAL’s go into Osama Bin Laden’s house and end his life, but the youth today would not be uninterested because most of them are now born after 9/11 happened.
This film is almost completely accurate when it comes to the process of the attaining of information to go seek and destroy Bin Laden, but the lingo and actual conversations were exaggerated and detailed further than what would have actually happened. In class we have discussed how women have been left out and not given the opportunities but I never put it into play within actual big business and how individuals’ actions come off as. While watching Zero Dark Thirty it was almost too obvious that women were pushed aside and disregarded when it came time to make a choice. Spoken opinions were overlooked and authority was never given to them while there was a male in the room capable of doing the same task. When a female would get loud and feisty during a conversation all of the men would tell her to calm down and relax because it was not a place for a women to be showing this open aggressiveness, while men could yell face to face and nothing was to be said. During times of immediate crises it shows that the women have no plan to escape and almost duck their heads and wait for a male figure to come and rescue her, just like a woman had been portrayed in numerous historical movies and beliefs. Every time someone gives credit to Maya, even herself, a male steps up and declares that anyone could have done it, or that she was doing nothing more than her job and should not be too prideful of herself. Something else worth noting is that at the beginning of the film the only people to respect Maya or another female figure is the detainee’s. The American men just nodded them off but the prisoners, people fighting for something, almost looked for sympathy from the women because they both looked as if they were fighting for something. This is just as in history when the African-American population, a population in a big struggle, tried to join the fight with the women to help themselves out of the hole that white American put into place. It was a fight conjoined like those of women prior to the Second World War where white women helped out black women to organize their own system to stand up into the public arena. No one would listen to the women in the role making actual leadership choices, which has been the reason that women have not been within the political system as much as almost everyone would wish and why more prominent female world leaders have not become natural. All of the men believe that women can’t create the work that the men can.
The primary weakness of this movie was that it tried to take over ten years of history and gathering information and squeeze it into a two and a half hour movie with the battle scene showing how Bin Laden was taken down. The buildup lasted for the first four-fifths of the movie and it could get a viewer to fall asleep easily. The strengths of the movie were plentiful however, creating an emotional attachment to the main character, displaying an almost historically accurate process, and developing the story plot that reflects the mindsets of the normal American. You would see Maya finding something more in the evidence box and you would get excited for her only to see another setback hit her investigation. When she lost her friend and coworker you wanted to sit next to her in the corner of her workspace where she was drinking and crying because you felt so bad for her loss and you wished that there would be some good news but only more bad news came and set her back further. The accuracy of the movie and the real life effect it had through the 9/11 phone calls, the speech by President Barack Obama outlawing the torture of detainee’s by American forces, and the different terrorist attacks along the way including the hotel bombing, London street explosion, and the attack on the CIA agent, Maya. As stated previously, there were an abundant amount of connections to how women were viewed and handled in the workforce, especially at such a high level within the CIA.
Cott, Nancy F. “From Ballots to Breadlines.” In No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.