A double-edged sword

Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most thought-provoking films I have seen recently. It is advertised as the untold story of the greatest manhunt in history that is of course the decade-long search for Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

It all boils down to the old-age question, does end justify the means? Is it the greater good for the greater number at all costs?

Nope, the film is not full of blasts and bombs and gunfire. There’s not even much muscle. It’s not exhilarating but that doesn’t mean it’s any less gripping. Half of the movie you watch people type, look at computer screens, read files, draw maps and argue with their superiors. I actually like that because it reminds the viewers that the CIA, as the name suggests, is an Intelligence office. It’s not always a game of brawns. It’s a matter of the mind, deducting information from different kinds of sources, following a lead (some of them false) and outwitting your enemies which are in fact smart (otherwise they wouldn’t be able to run a “global network of interconnected cells”).

Speaking of information, this is where torture comes in. Ever since the beginning of civilization, torture has been used to extract information and the effectiveness of this practice can only be summarized in Dan’s line, “In the end bro, everybody breaks. It’s biology man”. I have seen countless torture scenes from different movies and shows but never have I been so disturbed watching one.

On one scene where Dan gives Ammar (a detainee) an orange juice, the frame was just too much that I found myself crying and thinking “how cruel”. But then a couple of minutes after, I see suicide bombers, civilian lives wasted, people assassinated and I start to review what my definition of cruel is.  If torturing gives you information, information so valuable that it can save thousands of lives, then is the act of tormenting a person for that information justifiable?

Majority (especially human rights activists) would immediately answer no because most of us like to think that we have high moral standards. But that’s only because we’re sitting in the comforts of our home and we’re not tested. Again, biology claims everybody breaks. Maya, in the beginning, was uncomfortable witnessing Dan torture a detainee. A few years down the road, we see Dan warning her that a detainee might die under the pressure she puts him in. She has hardened and you really can’t blame her.

The film makes you think. 10 years lost. Billions of dollars spent. Hundreds of innocent lives gone. Morality forgotten. Osama’s body in a body bag (we’re not even sure it’s him because Aladeen claimed it was just a double. Ok, lame joke). What happens next?

I don’t know why but ZD30 sort of makes me compare the hunt with achieving success while losing all your loved ones in the process. You’ve reached the top. Mission accomplished. But there’s no cause for celebration.


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