Maya at Half-Past Midnight

Zero Dark Thirty
Produced by Columbia and Annapurna Pictures
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay Mark Boal
Distributed by Columbia and Sony Pictures


Those who read this column may recall how impressed I was by The Hurt Locker five years ago.  As directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, it still is the most honest portrayal of America’s inexcusable misadventures in Iraq.

Now Bigelow and Boal have returned with another film that attempts to depict with equal honesty our activities elsewhere in the Middle East.  This time, however, their honesty is somewhat compromised, paradoxically enough, by their attempt to render actual events faithfully.  The Hurt Locker was fiction based on facts; Zero Dark Thirty is fact developed with fictional tropes.  Well-executed fiction can convey a sounder sense of truth than does a straightforward recounting of actual events.  Among other things, the “true” story often puts the viewer at an odd remove from the events being dramatized.  As scenes unfold, the question of their authenticity pushes itself between the screen and the audience.  Soon we’re interrogating the narrative as we watch it.  We no longer have the luxury of suspending our disbelief.

Case in point: When Zero shows us...

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