Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Kathryn Bigelow


Zero Dark ThirtyKathryn Bigelow’s mostly redundant Zero Dark Thirty (2012) begins with one of the most repulsive opening sequences in cinema – an assembly of American voices from the World Trade Center and the flights that crashed into it minutes prior to and after the incident. That the scene emphatically introduces the film as an American narrative is not even remotely as problematic as its cannibalization of what is a most private moment to oil its genre gears. Presented without visuals, with an apparent intention to de-sensationalize the event, it does exactly the opposite and provides – not unlike the war on terror itself – a convenient, ahistorical, faux-humanist inciting reason for the film to dive headlong into act two. “The history of battle is primarily the history of radically changing fields of perception”, wrote Paul Virilio, and Bigelow’s film is a extended demonstration of how the Get-Bin-Laden enterprise was essentially a manipulation of the logistics of perception. The film’s major theme of the centrality of “seeing” and the predominance of the image over material acquisitions in war dovetails with Bigelow’s signature aesthetic, which consists of strings of POV shots emphasizing spatial integrity and a Realism fetish that approximates Jordan and India to Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is something of interest, of course, in the progressive defeminization of Maya (Jessica Chastain), which results in a portrait of wartime masculinity as performativity. The rest of the film, however, reinforces cinema’s status as, to quote Virilio again, “a bastardized form, a poor relation of military-industrial society”, especially the final showdown, where the attempt to make cinema as exciting and visceral as “the real thing” becomes a parody of itself. History as commodity. War as entertainment. Don’t worry if you don’t know what happened at Abbottabad that night, it’s on DVD.