When I got back home after watching “Zero Dark Thirty,” I couldn’t properly think for about an hour. For a big-budget Hollywood thing, the movie was a deluge of information.
“Zero Dark Thirty” was quieter and more powerful than I might have stereotyped, given it was prefaced by trailers clearly meant for shoot-em-up, action-seeking audiences. The movie made me wonder how little I know, have even sought to know, about an event that arguably re-calibrated the world more suddenly and drastically than any other. I am, however, of the generation (I was 11 years old at 9/11) least likely to understand that. The often time-consuming chore of airport security, for example, is a reality we begrudge out of our need for speed, not the ability to compare to something faster.
As I stepped out of the theater, I found myself impressed by the movie’s ability to streamline a coherent narrative from the barrage of information released by various governments and third parties, a barrage that is still only a drop of water compared to the flood of documents, reports, stories and experiences of people connected to 9/11 and everything that followed. The fiction of the movie alluded to all of that, far more than any documentary could have tried.
I thought of my friend studying journalism at Columbia right now, and what she’s taught me about the news in wartime: how necessary and dangerous facts can be, how easily kept private, how remarkably subjective, volatile. A recent blog post by a New York Times editor noted, too, how we in the U.S. seem to be “trapped in a Cold War mindset” – our politicians playing fast and loose with the facts of the U.S.’ global status. The rhetoric, as you can guess, is always that we’re the smartest, richest, coolest, free-est, etc. Part of the author’s ending zinger is a link to the Reporters Without Borders’ 2011/2012 Press Freedom Index report, whose rankings would surprise many by not listing the U.S. as first (or second, or third…). It got me thinking again how easily misrepresented information is, let alone info on topics we don’t care enough about to fact-check by our own hand.
I was curious what the movie title “Zero Dark Thirty” meant, and according to Google, it’s a military term referring to the time 00:30 at night. According to screenwriter Mark Boal (via Wikipedia via Entertainment Weekly), “it refers also to the darkness and secrecy that cloaked the entire decade long mission.” Of course, I read that and liked the movie even more.