[Marxism] 'Zero Dark Thirty' is the most vile and immoral war film I've seen in years

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jan 27 16:21:18 MST 2013


By Noam Sheizaf
Published January 27, 2013
'Zero Dark Thirty' is the most vile and immoral war film I've seen in years

“Revenge of the agonized killers” would have been a more appropriate title.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Israeli cinema stopped producing heroic war 
stories – the kind of action or drama movies where the protagonist 
serves his country, noble against a powerful and cruel enemy. The 
quantity of other such works of fiction – in literature, for example – 
dropped as well. Which, when you think about it, is kind of weird for a 
country that has a war every few years and needs to reinforce its own 
ethos. Instead, Israeli popular culture started producing a different 
genre – that of the confessions. Here, the protagonists or story-tellers 
were usually trying to come to terms with the terrible things they were 
forced to do to – by their COs, by politicians or by circumstances, but 
never of their own choice. The genre even earned a name: “shooting and 
crying. “ It all seemed brave – but it wasn’t, since our heroes never 
assumed responsibility for their actions. The real perpetrators were 
others: generals, right-wing radicals, fools – and sometimes it was 
simply the Arab’s fault. And sure enough, all those groups didn’t make 
movies. It was the lefty cultural elites that needed absolution, or at 
least explanation for the things they did (with much enthusiasm) – 
usually while continuing to do them. Today I would rather have a right 
wing that is proud of the occupation than an agonized lefty. You don’t 
want to do something, don’t do it. In the left-wing protests in recent 
years you can often hear chants of, “don’t shoot, don’t cry – get out of 
the territories now,” urging people to take responsibility for their 

Now I must say this – in decades of watching Israeli and international 
war cinema, I don’t remember a film as immoral, vile and self-righteous 
as Zero Dark Thirty. This narcissistic movie, with all its aesthetic 
portraits of torture and assassinations, not only enjoys and fetishizes 
the violence it depicts but also justifies and rationalizes it. It is 
not – as some more naïve viewers said – a “complicated” or 
“controversial” way of promoting “a debate” on torture, but the other 
way around. Torture and assassinations are presented as effective though 
unpleasant ways of preforming heroic acts. The film completely ignores 
collateral damage, the innocents who are killed and abused and the 
inherent abuse of power (and think in that context not just about the 
acts carried out by the U.S, but also by its allies, in Pakistan for 
example), which are part of the argument for conducting warfare within a 
different normative and legal framework. But the problem goes even 
deeper. Zero Dark Thirty is so self-righteous that it makes the blunt 
orientalism of The Hurt Locker actually look good. There, the director 
seemed to have understood that some people like “the action” – but we 
never saw that kind of emotion in Zero Dark Thirty. After all, no 
American would like torture or killings. Bigelow’s portrait people at 
war runs contrary to anything we know about human nature and violence 
everywhere and at all times. If the director would have shown the sadism 
and corruption that comes when you cross certain boundaries, then some 
viewers would have felt uncomfortable, and gone home really thinking or 
talking about what they saw. But I don’t think the film would have been 
such a success in such a case. Holywood is giving Kathryn Bigelow prizes 
because she makes Americans feel good about themselves and the wars they 

I am not judging those wars themselves here or even the practices of 
torture or extra-judicial killings, but rather the way they are told and 
discussed. When you take ZDT and The Hurt Locker together, you 
understand that Bigelow actually thinks that in the more than 11 years 
of wars in three countries, the sole and only victims were Americans. 
This is the worst kind of propaganda, one which is directed at the 
bleeding hearts and liberals who seem to enjoy their action flicks with 
a sauce of “moral dilemmas” and remorse. Be sure – the old style of war 
films were way more honest and moral because they praised the hero’s 
actions and therefore assumed at least certain responsibility for them. 
Naturally, the Arabs are just as dead in both genres.

UPDATE: I watched The Gatekeepers today, and I will post about it later 
this week.

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