Dec 12, 2012

Is Zero Dark Thirty a fascist film?

'The word “fascistic” gets kicked around a little too much in connection with the arts. As a general rule, if something involves the purchase of a theatre ticket, rather than a jackboot pressing on your carotid, it’s probably not fascism. And I’m as bored as the next man by people telling me I must be made “uncomfortable” by a film — to have my moral certainties shaken, my ambivalence nursed and doubts explored and so on. Too often, it means merely a cross-hatching of symmetrically-opposed sympathies — a studied neutrality, as neat as the certainties it opposes. Confounding one’s certainties is such a routine part of our Liberal Arts diet that I can’t believe anyone is remotely confounded anymore. Rare is the film in possession of the real thing — deep, full-bore ambivalence — and the few that are happen to be masterpieces: Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, a film that pulls off the impossible feat of being both Pro- and Anti-Terrorist at the same time; or Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s Wagnerian epic about the Vietnam War that is also a Gonzo, gungo-ho classic thanks to the contributions of writer John Milius, a self-proclaimed Zen anarchist and NRA member, who hated all the hippies infesting Hollywood at the time, and who wanted to shoot the film in Vietnam while it was still going on in order to teach them all a lesson: — 
"We would have arrived in time for Tet probably ... and all these people who were in school with me, who had done all these terrible things like planning to go to Canada, and do something as drastic as getting married to avoid the war ... they were willing to go to Vietnam… They wanted to carry lights and sound equipment over mine fields, and I think Warner Bros. probably backed off because they figured most of us would probably be killed." 
 But Milius’s jingoism survives in the film — it’s there in the Ride-of-the-Valkyrie sequence, and the Surf’s-Up scene on the beach, with Robert Duvall, himself a GI kid who grew up in a military family and served two years in the US Army during the Korean War, squatting on his heels, bare-chested, taking in the “smell of napalm in the morning.” It is among the greatest of all war scenes, lyrical and barbaric in equal measure, and it couldn't have been made except by a filmmaker in two minds about war. How could anyone be otherwise? Why did Bigelow and Boal made up the stuff about torture getting Bin Laden in their film? Who knows. Maybe they wanted a dramatic opening. The word is that Boal went native at the CIA and fell in love with his sources. But as much as one might hate anything that adds to the self-justification of thugs like Cheney, Zero Dark Thirty would be a lesser film without those scenes. It’s Breughelian frieze of America’s secret history, would feel incomplete without them — artistically redacted.' 
— from my Guardian column

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