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DP/30 Sneak: Zero Dark 30’s Jessica Chastain & Jason Clarke on “The Torture Controversy”

32 Responses to “DP/30 Sneak: Zero Dark 30’s Jessica Chastain & Jason Clarke on “The Torture Controversy””

  1. StellaPD says:

    Isn’t it gratuitous simply because torture did not lead to bin Laden’s capture and death? Clarke is right when he says that it’s happened, but it did not play a part in bin Laden’s killing.

    I also think it’s simplistic and inaccurate to suggest that some people are accusing it of being pro-torture because they are pussy lefties who need the movie to unequivocally state that it’s anti-torture. Here’s a good Peter Bergen (is he a raving liberal?) piece about this issue.

    Boal and Bigelow (as Chastain hints at) claim the movie has no agenda and that they took a journalistic approach to the material. But if, as people like Bergen and Robert Baer and others suggest, it claims that torture directly led to bin Laden’s killing, which is not factual, well that doesn’t square with what the cast and filmmakers claim.

  2. Mike says:

    But Zero Dark 30 isn’t a documentary. I haven’t seen the movie, but I think there’s an argument to be made that the torture is in there to force the moral question: does the end justify the means. Isn’t it a better work of art for asking that question than to simply say here’s what happened? Maybe, maybe not.

  3. StellaPD says:

    I don’t buy the “it’s not a documentary” contention. Boal and Bigelow have said they strained to take a journalistic approach and stick to the facts; no propaganda or political agenda. It seems a little disingenuous to play that card. And isn’t asking whether or not torture is ever justified different than showing that torture directly led to bin Laden’s capture when in fact it did not?

  4. David Poland says:

    Have “Robert Baer and others” seen the movie or are they just riffing off of what other people who haven’t seen the movie have decided is in the movie?

    It does say that most of the people who have breadcrumbs which eventually lead to bin Laden were tortured. There is not a single instance in the film of someone giving up information that leads to bin Laden while being tortured… or even harshly interrogated.


    Most of the intel that is gathered from detainees is simply photo ID, all with the wrong name. The only extensive act of torture in the film leads to a trick and a “good cop” situation in which some info is given… not a direct line in any way. And another is from a non-combatant – a money guy – who tells us he had been tortured and doesn’t want to be again. This leads to an active investigation, the primary intelligence of which comes from a bribe for a phone number, which leads to most of what the film does say led to bin Laden, hard, on-the-ground surveillance and pursuit.


    Peter Bergen’s piece is a very good example of the trick that people with agendas are playing now. At least he saw an early cut of the film. He thought the torture was “overwrought.” And his investigation of the real story of the real guy who was, apparently, the first link is based on WikiLeaks. The main complaint is that that torture is too prominent in the film to not be seen as the critical link. But that is the problem with all of this whining… it’s smart people arguing that everyone else is too stupid to follow what is actually in the movie.

  5. StellaPD says:

    Bergen served as an adviser on the film and has written extensively about bin Laden and al-Qaeda. He seems like a person with authority on these matters and hardly like someone accusing others of being too stupid to follow what is actually in the movie. Is there no legitimacy whatsoever to the claim that the movie suggests torture played a key role in killing bin Laden when in reality it did not?

  6. christian says:

    When FOX and Cheney give ZDT a thumbs-up we’ll know who looks stupid trying to appear smart. Guys like Jeff Wells who thinks ZDT proves that torture caught OBL.

  7. David Poland says:

    Again… this is a subjective issue that has been blown up into a central issue.

    And in the video on CNN, Bergen hedges and then comes back to, “Viewers are going to walk away with the impression…”

    The other guy who is also on the Anderson Cooper clip refers to someone being broken and giving up bin Laden’s location… which is NOT what is in the movie. And he is not called on it by AC.

    And then, AC and Bergin brings up this notion again that the fact that the investigation isn’t as heart-pumping as the torture that people will come away from the film thinking “torture got us bn Laden,” as he also admits that is not the text of the film.

    This is not much about ZD30. This is a Rorshach test. But it is a grotesque misrepresentation of what the film actually is. And it is, in almost everything I have read, predicated – project past the literal – on the idea that people are too stupid to recognize that 30 steps that lead to bin Laden and will only obsess on the torture of one man, who does, indeed, offer the first germ of the idea of following the courier.

  8. christian says:

    Yeah, how could anybody in America be propogandized that Iraq had WMDs? Americans NEVER blithely ignore The 30 Steps To Truth.

  9. StellaPD says:

    While people have been tortured by the CIA, if torture played no role in capturing bin Laden, are people misguided if they fear that some viewers will believe torture helped kill bin Laden after seeing the movie? Then again maybe torture did play a role. I haven’t read it, but apparently Mark Bowden’s recent book on the matter states that torture did play a small part in getting bin Laden. I’m certainly not calling a film I haven’t seen pro-torture. It’s an interesting discussion though. First the GOP was labeling ZD30 pro-Obama propaganda, now some are calling it pro-torture. Can’t wait to see it for myself.

  10. David Poland says:

    Christian… there was clearly bad intel on WMDs. The Clintons were given it. Bush was given it. That doesn’t mean Bush didn’t happily use that bad intel to push us into a war for other reasons, but there was clear bad intel.

    This is a full movie that no one could watch with any openness and think the movie says torture led directly to bin Laden. What it does clearly say is that detainees were tortured and that some gave up bits of intel after being tortured… not while being tortured. The majority of the investigative work that leads to bin Laden in the film is not torture-associated.

    Don’t attack a film just because Jeff Wells is an ass.

  11. LYT says:

    Just to add – attacking the politics of a movie one has not seen is usually the exclusive domain of places like Big Hollywood. Lefties here are falling into exactly the patterns they mock right-wing culture critics for following.

    I remember a conservative friend of mine saying he didn’t need to see FOOD INC because he had read a transcript of it online. Facepalm-worthy.

  12. christian says:

    Im not attacking because of Wells but pointing out that what you say is so obvious is patently not. Torture did not play a role in finding OBL but stella just surmised it did. Those facts exist and if you claim a movie is going by the book then claim “but with dramatic license” then you just reneged on the claim.

    And the “bad intel” line about WMD is a fave right wing rebuttal. The weapons inspectors in Iraq said there were no WMDs as did many folks not named Bush or Clinton. They were marginilized and ignored.

  13. StellaPD says:

    I said Mark Bowden’s book claims that torture did play a small role in finding bin Laden.

    Here’s another piece on the movie from someone who has seen it and defends the filmmakers while also noting that Cheney will probably like it

    I’m not attacking the politics of a movie I haven’t seen. It’s a debate I find really interesting and I look forward to seeing the movie. But I’m not attacking it.

  14. LYT says:

    Honestly, I thought the part of the movie liberals would latch on to and get angry at is the fact that the movie backs up the notion there was never any intent to take Bin Laden alive.

  15. Geoff says:

    You know what? I’d like to consider myself a liberal – I voted for Obama and thought W was easily one of the worst presidents in American history…..and I don’t really care whether this movie presents a pro-torture message or not. It’s all bullshit!

    Left wing folks have been getting it all wrong on Bush and Cheney for years and the righties REALLY got it wrong on how they went for Obama. This is NOT about the morality of whether or not to torture; I have never seen it that way sorry.

    Any one left or right who really believes that we did NOT torture suspects and/or detainees BEFORE 9/11 and before George W. Bush became President is truly kidding themselves. It’s a bullshit straw-man argument that those in the right used to their favor for years as if to say, “See….this is something that WE only do and that’s why Al Quaeda hasn’t attacked us since.” And those on the left have completely taken the bait on it….torture or “enhanced interrogation” has been around for decades. Bush and Cheney just happened to trumpet it as their “strategy” to make up for the complete incompetence they showed in Iraq and trying to take out Al Quaeda.

    You would think these guys invented it or that it came from watching episodes of 24 10 years ago…bullshit! It was just ONE tactic out of hundreds and it’s debatable as to whether it worked – it might have gotten some information at times, but who cares???

    And seriously, some 20 year old Iranian kid who was brain-washed since birth to hate America and strap a bomb on himself…..I highly doubt that kind of person would even hesitate to carry out his duty based on the fear of being fucking water-boarded. I mean how absurd!

    NO ONE is afraid of the United States because we water-board terror suspects and they never were. And no other Industrialized nation can claim the moral high-ground on us either. All of this debate about “enhanced interrogations” has really diverted us from genuine debate about what we are or need to be doing to combat terrorism.

    Seriously, I think the left wing in this country should really do a better job of picking their battles sometimes.

  16. StellaPD says:

    Does a single liberal believe that we never tortured anyone prior to the George W. Bush administration?

  17. David Poland says:

    “Torture did not play a role in finding OBL” is a weighty blanket that seems to be too heavy.

    Did anyone break and give up bin Laden?

    No. No one (including the movie) says otherwise.

    Was information gathered from detainees that had some value? It seems so.

    Were most detainees tortured? It seems so.

    The problem I have with leaping to “the movie says torture was the basis for getting bin Laden” is that it is, by overstating the case the movie makes, false.

    You can, as Bergen did, suggest that the emotional weight of the torture in the film outweighs its probative vale to the CIA. That is true. And true in the context of the film itself.

    But leaping to “the movie states” based on the issue of the emotional impact of one sequence taken out of the context of the film is a serious problem for me.

    And no, I do not feel this is true of a movie like Hostel 2. Some have argued that there is context for the torture of women in that film. But the lack of context in the film itself for the torture as a comment and not the body of the film doesn’t exist, in my opinion. If a girl having the skin ripped off of her face was the set-up to a serious interest in an investigation, that might be okay, however “amusing” the sequence. But Hostel 2 is a movie about violence and the violence is gratuitous. A woman finally turning the tables and inflicting similarly perverse violence on a man is not context… it’s just a gender flip for the same gratuitous hate-laden mocking, sexualized violence.

  18. David Poland says:

    Stella – I do. And I would be shocked if, no matter what our rules, we didn’t still torture to some degree at times.

    Rules do not always keep bad things from happening.

    But I do believe the way things were done did change for the more barbaric in the last decades in administrations left and right.

  19. StellaPD says:

    I asked because I’ve never heard anyone suggest that we didn’t torture prior to 2001. Anyway thanks for engaging here DP. I only wish I could see the movie sooner than I will be able to. Then (theoretically) I’d be able to communicate more informed and detailed thoughts.

  20. storymark says:

    Its not that we didn’t torture before Bush – its that it wasn’t officially sanctioned before then.

    There are a bunch of folk that I would personally like to torture. But I still don’t think it should be part of our normal toolkit.

  21. CTR says:

    This Hunt for Bin Laden story isn’t from research by an impartial historian. It’s from an account by the CIA… an intelligence agency tasked with reaching desired political ends any way possible. Literally ANY WAY POSSIBLE.

    No thinking person should trust this film with facts. Can we agree on that?

    So, with that out of the way, the only way to engage the film is through a prism of artistic value OR propaganda intent.

    Adding torture to a story that didn’t feature it in reality seems to support the critics who defend its aesthetic use in the film AND intellectuals who assume it’s used to make a right wing political argument.

    They’re both right in a sense. It’s excellent propaganda art.

  22. Think says:

    The movie isn’t pro-torture or anti-torture. These stories have mostly been written by people who haven’t seen it and they’re being pushed by people behind rival likely best picture contenders. This happens every year. I think it’s going to help the movie more than hurt it because it will help incite conversation after people see it.

    DJANGO is the best movie of the year but ZERO is a close second.

  23. David Poland says:

    How did you come to have this opinion of all the sourcing being CIA, CTR?

  24. eldrick says:

    a lot of people i respect that have seen the movie say it gives a vibe that torture worked. even Tom Carson, who pushed back against Glenn Greenwald, said the film kinda says torture worked. He defended the filmmakers against accusations that their intent was to be pro-torture, and more along the lines of they made it as close to the facts they had, and wherever the cards fell is what we ended up with.

    add emily bazlon over at slate. All these people cant be wrong about the movie giving a pro torture vibe, i mean, they arent stupid. i doubt this is a purely political stance, since most film critics are lefty and are praising the film no end.

    we’ll find out soon enough, but this film is sounding like 24 but for film intellectuals.

    this amoral way bigelow apparently filmed this movie is what Armond White called her out for with The Hurt Locker. Seems he saw her flaws before anyone else and has been proven right.

  25. christian says:

    Lefties should find other battles than our government choosing who it can torture based on recent post 9-11 laws? Okayyyyyyyyyy….

  26. David Poland says:

    Eldrick… The problem is not an opinion and a discussion. The problem is that this is reaching hysteric levels based on a couple of people’s politically slanted pieces.

    Again… does the film say that people who had been tortured gave up info? Yes. Is that info decisive? Not close. Do they give it up while being tortured? No.

    The alternative argument is that no “enemy combatant,” as almost are were tortured on some level, ever gave up any useful information. That seems like bullshit as well, no?

    The guy who’s been tortured in the film is allowed to sleep and is outside having lunch with the CIA agents and after being lied to about current events, talks a little. He mentions a courier as part of a broader conversation, not under some specific interrogation. And that angle on getting to bin Laden is picked up by the Maya character.

    THAT is the big “torture works” moment.

    This whole thing is way out of perspective.

    PS I’ve seen the movie 3 times, including since all the torture chatter started.

  27. christian says:

    DP is entering his paralogical “NOBODY cared about torture before now!” phase….

  28. David Poland says:

    Christian – Well, it finally struck me this morning. Torture is hundreds of years old in real life and not a rare device in movies and TV. Isn’t it odd that people are going apeshit now about am ovie they mostly haven’t seen? Shouldn’t I be infuriated that comparisons are being made to 24, when that show DID show torture being used for a specific piece of intel when that is NOT what happens in ZD30 at all?

    Of course people cared about torture in the real world. But all of a sudden, the slightest suggestion that torture can lead to anything but worthless intel and the centuries of it being used were all misguided not only morally but in function is proudly offensive to the point where smart people are ranting and calling nasty names about something they haven’t even seen. That shouldn’t bother me? Or you?

  29. tbunny says:

    Well David, 24 never pretended to be some detailed and high minded journalistic dramatization of the hunt and capture of, you know, the biggest terrorist in the world.

    Maybe the movie is nuanced, I don’t know. But let’s remember that no one did a single day of jail time for a program that openly flouted international treaties and tarnished our image in the world. This is while we were locking up kids and illegally rendering people all over the world to be tortured. You know, we’ve had war criminals regularly appearing on cable news for years now. Oh, and a program that got major legacy media to abandon editorial principles and obsessively call torture “enhanced interrogation”. So I can understand if people might be a little touchy when they hear that a prestige picture ripped from the headlines kinda sorta suggests maybe torture might have played a role in getting Osama, or was a teeny tiny part of a complex and successful operation, when that contention, however arguably minor, has been vigorously denied by people who are supposed to have the info, and no evidence has ever been presented for it. Now, is that fair to Bigelow’s work? Maybe not. But then when you choose something super-topical, it shouldn’t be surprising if people are very sensitive to every “creative” decision you make. That’s the bargain you make. So your outrage about their “hysteria” is hard to understand. No one should be shocked that even a scintilla of an innuendo that maybe torture got some tiny bit of intel, in the context of the most important intelligence operation in many decades, might be, you know, controversial. And no one should be surprised that even that possibly incredibly nuanced and ambiguous and super minor story detail (which again, there is no evidence for) might be perceived as giving aid and comfort to the army of liars and criminals who to this day insist that torture worked.

  30. StellaPD says:

    Here’s where I think there are two separate issues. There’s suggesting that (generally speaking) torture can lead to usable intelligence, and then there’s the more specific suggestion that torture led to intelligence that led to bin Laden’s capture. Is the movie trying to make the point that the former is true even if the latter is not?

  31. Joe Leydon says:

    OK, a serious question: Zero Dark Thirty just received a mess o’nominations from the Hollywood FOREIGN Press Association. Does that indicate anything about how the film is being received (in regard to its allegedly condoning torture) by people from other countries?

  32. christian says:

    What tbunny said.

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