Saturday, February 09, 2013

Hoberman
Like Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln was anticipated as a movie that would naturally reflect well on the current president and, indeed, on the eve of the Zero Dark Thirty opening and at the behest of senate majority leader Harry Reid, Spielberg hosted a special screening for a bipartisan senate audience. Zero Dark Thirty was repudiated, Lincoln embraced. The Oscar wars heated up. The Hollywood Reporter found that "negative talk is escalating", along with whispering campaigns: Zero Dark Thirty justifies torture, Lincoln distorts history. Perhaps so. Still, by putting an essentially positive spin on a bloody tragedy, Lincoln provides a history lesson with a happy ending. Zero Dark Thirty, whose chances at winning best picture seem to be nil, is the exact reverse – a success story with intimations of monumental failure. (Meanwhile, Argo – a movie in which movie magic is put to heroic use – emerged from its Golden Globes victory as an exciting feelgood, industry-flattering Oscar alternative.) 
Whereas Obama and his commanders followed the mission to kill Bin Laden in real time, Zero Dark Thirty presents Maya as its author and sole witness. She is the first to get the good news, the only American to greet the returning Seals, the person who unzips the body-bag and IDs the corpse. Maya is so important that she flies home alone in the empty bay of a cargo plane. Once again, she is blank and then, raison d'etre extinguished, she cries. 
Is Maya, like Ishmael, the lone survivor left clinging to the flotsam of the Pequod? Is she condemned, like Ethan Edwards at the end of The Searchers, to "wander forever between the winds"? What did it cost the girl (or Obama) or America to kill Bin Laden? Zero Dark Thirty slakes a thirst for vengeance and leaves an aftertaste of gall.

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